IT is a difficult matter to criticise a religious poet from a purely literary standpoint. There was a curious instance of this last year. When the Keats Memorial was unveiled at Hampstead, Mr. Gosse spoke some disrespectful words of Kirke White. There followed a short sharp controversy in the Standard on the subject. The defenders of Kirke White's position as a poet, based their arguments, as far as I can remember, on the grounds (1) that he was a good Christian, (2) that he might have been Senior Wrangler, (3) that he was the victim of an early death. The facts themselves, or rather the facts in combination, may certainly be said to invest Kirke White with a romantic interest. Southey, indeed, felt this so strongly that he wrote a memoir of the young man, and edited his Remains. But any one who will now study Kirke White's poems in themselves, as literature, without prejudice, must inevitably come to the conclusion that they are worthless, and disfigured by every fault that can be laid to the charge of poetry. They are not even promising. They are tedious, grotesque, inharmonious, dull. And yet they have a place in the Aldine edition of British poets.
No one would, of course, dream of classing Keble with Kirke White. Keble was a wise, able, devoted man, narrow-minded, no doubt, and timid in thought, if not in action. Not imaginative nor vivid, but intensely affectionate, dutiful, and reserved; a lover of Nature, scenery, friends, children, reflection; somewhat melancholy, no doubt, and not growing in hopefulness as years went by—with little independence of thought or character; but reverent, a lover of precedent, and authority, and things established. Altogether a wholesome, valuable man, like Telemachus in Tennyson's "Ulysses," of a type of which Englishmen may be proud; but not a man who can be called interesting or romantic in any degree; even Mr. Lock, who has written his life in a lucid style, and with pious discretion, would admit that.
There is something eminently depressing about Keble's want of personal ambition; no doubt, it was a triumph of grace over nature; but one would have liked the triumph to have been a little more impressive. In the celebrated canvass for the Provostship of Oriel, where the decision of Newman and Pusey turned the scale, and gave it to Hawkins rather than Keble, it isevident that Keble was not greatly disappointed; he acquiesced too easily. In some men, this could almost be called indolence, but in Keble we may call it modesty. It argues, however, a certain want of fire, of intensity—and the same is the case with his writings.
Keble never lets himself go; he is always checking and controlling the impulse of song. And thus he spoke of his own poetry as a relief from graver thoughts: "Poeticæ vis medica," the healing power of poetry, he called it; as something to which he could turn to distract and soothe him, but a π?ρεργον nevertheless, not the business of his life, not an overmastering impulse, an imperious need of self-expression. This did not lead to the careful chastening and correcting of his verse that one might expect. There have been poets, in whom the sense of perfection was very strong, like Gray, who worked rarely, slowly, painfully, producing a marvellous, jewelled masterpiece, wrought out touch by touch. But there was nothing of this about Keble; he was copious, fluent, uncritical; he was never fastidious, and allowed much to go out under his name which was quite unworthy of an able man; puerile, inelegant stuff; no one, we may say, was ever capable of more extreme flatness than Keble reached in some of the poems in the Lyra Innocentium; such as the compositions entitled "Irreverence in Church," and "Disrespect to Elders," where it is asked that some good angel may wait, "With unseen scourge in hand, On the Church path, and by the low school door," in order to "write in young hearts Thy reverend lore,"—very advisable, no doubt, but how suggestive of Bumble, and the charity children, and the rod of office! A sense of propriety, we will not say of humour, would have prevented such a bathos as this.
It is not, of course, contended that a sense of humour is, in the least, part of the outfit of a poet. Shelley had none, yet was rescued from bathos by enthusiasm. Wordsworth had none, and he wallowed in bathos. The sense of humour is merely negative in a poet; it does not give a poet sublimity, but it rescues him from puerility and absurdity. And so into both of these faults Keble not unfrequently fell. In the Lyra Innocentium and the miscellaneous poems are many very lamentable verses. In the Lyra indeed, there are few that are not lamentable. The fatal blight of the book is that it is occupied throughout, not with what one can learn from children, but with what one can teach them. It upholds an impossible and undesirable ideal for childhood—the ideal of the sainted infant, cheerful, high-principled, devout, obedient, but neither natural nor child-like. Keble was very fond of children, but only a childless man could have constructed so false a picture. This false note vitiates the whole book; we are conscious of an under-current of rebellion as we read it. We realise that, after all, we do not want children to be such as Keble describes them. We do not wish them to be "prostrate in their sin and shame," as in the poem of "Absolution" in "Early Encouragements." And it is not poetry, whatever it may be, to tell a child that
The Sunday garment, glittering gay,
The Sunday heart will steal away.
Even from the religious point of view, the book is pharisaical; it tends to multiply offences, to create a fantastic and elaborate morbidity of conscience fatal to the natural simplicity of childhood, that should be so jealously guarded.
The following incident casts a curious light on Keble's taste. On a stray piece of paper still preserved in his writing are the following "principles in choosing and correcting hymns"!
(1) Always use "we" instead of "I," or nearly always.
(2) Insert as many touches of doctrine as may be.
(3) Under every head have at least one ancient or archaic hymn.
This is an interesting and characteristic fragment, because it illustrates so well Keble's intense dislike to the personal, the autobiographical element in poetry, that "self-revelation" which is so much in demand at present. Secondly, it shows that he laboured under a deep-seated error as to what was and what was not suitable material for poetical treatment. The second principle would be bad enough if it referred to composition, but when it deals with the correction of the hymns of other authors it is unpardonable. The third principle illustrates his reverence for antiquity and tradition.
We will now take the Christian Year and we will say at the outset that we do not propose to consider it, except incidentally, from the doctrinal and hortatory point of view. We must first remember that whatever be its merits and demerits, it is a book that has achieved a popularity of an absolutely phenomenal kind. It is a book that has been bought and read in England as Shakespeare, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and Robinson Crusoe, and in America as the works of E. P. Roe. In 1853 it was in its forty-second edition, twenty-five years after its publication. In 1873, when the copyright expired, it had reached the 158th edition, and it is still in demand. For many years it took its place, with High Church people, by the side of the Bible and Prayer Book. It would be incredible, were it not true, that a book of religious poetry, not suitable for public worship, the outcome of a very definite school of thought, should have achieved such a success. It was undoubtedly what the world wanted.
Now, let us first take some of its obvious demerits before we proceed to discuss its merits. In the first place, it is often careless in form and obscure in expression. It was consciously so, and Keble, probably wisely, refused to alter and amend it, imagining that such afterwork often sacrificed some of the freshness of inspiration. It was this carelessness that made Wordsworth, who read it with great admiration, say of it, "It is very good—so good that, if it were mine, I should write it all over again."
The metrical schemes are often complicated and unsatisfactory. Many of the poems are far too long, so as to be hardly lyrical. Such poems as that for Advent Sunday, or the Second Sunday after Trinity, contain between seventy and eighty heroic lines. Then, again, the cyclical instinct which beset Keble, made him provide poems for every event, every service of the Christian year. Thus we have Gunpowder Treason and the Churching of Women celebrated, though it must be owned that, in these cases, the poem has but the slightest connection with the subject.
Next—and this is a more serious point—the poems have been praised for their frequent references to nature and the fidelity of their imagery; after careful study of the Christian Year one is compelled to say that this praise is not deserved: the imagery is of a purely conventional character, and the observation employed of the most general kind. Dean Stanley said, in praise of Keble's descriptive passages, that his local and topographical details, whenever he spoke of the Holy Land, were marvellously clear and accurate. But this is not really a compliment. It shows that Keble was content to describe without his eye on the object, and relying on the observation of others; and if the pictures of landscapes that he had not seen are among his most felicitous passages, we may well be excused for mistrusting his powers of observation when dealing with the features of his own native country. The fact is that he did not seize upon salient features; Matthew Arnold, in such a poem as the "Scholar Gypsy," brings the Oxford atmosphere, the high gravelly hills, the deep water-meadows, before the eye; but Keble's landscape is the conventional English landscape, and has no precise definition, no native air. For instance, in the poem for "Trinity Sunday" he says:
As travellers on some woodland height,
When wintry suns are gleaming bright,
Lose in arch'd glades their tangled sight;
By glimpses such as dreamers love,
Through her grey veil the leafless grove
Shows where the distant shadows rove.
Will any one say that there is the least precision about this picture?
What kind of a place is he describing? How different it is from such
verses as are found on every page of Tennyson, as
A full-fed river winding slow
By herds upon an endless plain,
The ragged rims of thunder brooding low,
With shadow-streaks of rain.
Again, when Keble is describing the source of the moorland spring, some of which is beautifully delineated, he says ("Monday in Easter Week"):
Perchance that little brook shall flow
The bulwark of some mighty realm,
Bear navies to and fro
With monarchs at their helm.
Or canst thou guess how far away
Some sister nymph, beside her urn
Reclining night and day,
'Mid reeds and mountain fern,
Nurses her store, with thine to blend?
This is pure conventionalism: the mixture of the reclining nymph and the mountain fern is not felicitous. Constitutional monarchs do not steer their own ironclads, and it is not picturesque even to pretend that they do.
The following may stand as instances of his failure in precise delineation. In the very first stanza of the book we have:
Hues of the rich unfolding morn,
That ere the glorious sun be born,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Around his path are taught to swell.
"Swell" is a property of bulk or sound, surely not of light? Again,
addressing the breeze, he says:
Wakenest each little leaf to sing.
This is purely conventional; how different from the "laurel's pattering talk" of Tennyson. Again:
The torrent rill
That winds unseen beneath the shaggy fell,
Touched by the blue mist well.
How weak a word to end a stanza! Again:
The birds of heaven before us fleet,
They cannot brook our shame to meet.
How falsetto, how prejudiced a tone! And these are not isolated instances: similar infelicities occur on every page.
Keble's whole view of Nature, it must be said, was onesided and wanting in insight. Nature was to him nothing but a type of mild fervour and uncomplaining patience. "All true, all faultless, all in tune," he says. To the cruelty, the waste, the ugliness, that seem so inextricably intertwined with natural processes, he diligently closed his eyes. Thus, in No. 9 of the Lyra Innocentium he propagates a host of innocent superstitions as to the power of childhood over wild beasts. It surely is not poetical to say of a baby:
The tiger's whelp encaged with thee
Would sheathe his claws to sport and play;
Bees have for thee no sting.
because it is not true.
Again, in the beautiful stanzas on the Second Sunday after Trinity, he sees "the many-twinkling smile of ocean" up the glade. His only thought is:
Such signs of love old Ocean gives
We cannot choose but think he lives.
An agreeable view, but hardly consistent with the vast and barren cruelties which are as natural to the ocean as his genial presence.
We do not mean that a poet is bound to insist on the harsher aspects of the case, but in a poet like Keble, who made so much of close communion with Nature, of intimate musings, it is mere blindness not to take these things into account. The fault, with Keble, was entirely in man's corrupt heart; further than that he did not care to follow it; he deliberately ignored the bewildering anomaly, the law of failure and suffering that runs through Nature, as surely as through the history of nations. How different a view it was from the view that Tennyson found grow more and more intense with advancing years—that the world was, as it were, the creation of some vast poetic heart, with its necessary concomitant of failure and incompleteness.
Keble himself, in his "Prælectiones Academicæ," or lectures delivered as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and in his review of the "Life of Sir Walter Scott" (British Critic, 1838), enunciated a theory of poetry which it will be well to examine. Dean Church said of the former work, that it was "the most original and memorable course ever delivered from the Chair of Poetry in Oxford"; but the statement does not imply any very extravagant claims. Again, Bishop Moberly said that the book exhibited "a power and delicacy at once so original and so just, as to make these lectures one of the most charming and valuable volumes of classical criticism that have ever issued from the press." Allowing for all possible partiality, this is strong praise; but it is difficult to see how it is justified. As to its critical value we may say at once that no one was ever less fitted to be a critic than Keble. "What Keble hated instinctively," says Newman, "was heresy, insubordination, resistance to things established, claims of independence, disloyalty, innovation, a critical and censorious spirit." That is an indifferent outfit for a poet, and an impossible one for a critic. And even granting to Keble a certain submissive acumen, a certain relish for masterpieces, criticism which deals only with the panegyric of great masters, or the classification of established reputations is surely the most valueless of all criticism. If it is presented in attractive literary form it merely diverts to itself the attention it professes to direct elsewhere! If it is elucidatory, it is excusable: but Keble is not elucidatory. The only true function of criticism is the judicial and tentative selection of contemporary excellence. Artistic impulse, literary progress, poetical production, have orbits of their own. Depreciative criticism is nothing more than a kind of attendant umbra, and has never done more than retard, if it has done even that, the popular verdict. Dr. Johnson was perfectly right when he said, "Depend upon it, sir, no man was ever written down but by himself." The criticism of the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, brilliant in form, retrograde in spirit, made a few writers uncomfortable and gave a malicious pleasure to a great number of readers: but poetical creation continued its calm advance quite independently. Nay, they even overshot their mark and called attention to the very writers they professed to crush. Had the reviewers had their way, we should have heard no more of Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, or Tennyson. The only valuable criticism is the unprejudiced republican criticism, that dares to see what is good and give instant encouragement to it. And Keble's is just the opposite, as might be expected from the whole tone and habit of his mind. A cautious appeal to authority, predetermined canons of taste and propriety—these are his characteristics.
He enunciates the theory which would divide all poets into primary and secondary poets. "Primary poets, according to Keble," says Principal Shairp, "are they who are driven by overmastering enthusiasm, by passionate devotion to some range of objects, or line of thought, or aspect of life or Nature, to utter their feelings in song. They sing because they cannot help it.... This is the true poetic μαν?α of which Plato speaks. Secondary poets are not urged to poetry by any such overflowing sentiment: but learning, admiration, choice and a certain literary turn have made them poetic artists." Of the former kind are Homer, Æschylus, Lucretius, Virgil, Pindar, Shakespeare, Burns, Scott: of the latter, Sophocles, Milton, Dryden, Horace, and Theocritus. This, in itself, is a somewhat singular selection of names. But what absence of insight is there in Keble's judgment that the Iliad and Odyssey are the work of one hand, the former in youth, the latter in later life. "The overmastering feeling of Homer," he says, "is a sad regret for the decay of the heroic age, with its common national feeling, its reverence for its leaders." What a fantastic judgment! Homer the poet of a sad regret! Surely it is the very absence of all critical or introspective or even latent thought which gives the poems their overwhelming charm.
The truth is that Keble's theory of poetry is practically an expansion of Aristotle's Poetics, and is a narrow generalisation on wholly insufficient grounds. Poets cannot be swept off the board entire, like chessmen. There are many writers of verse, whose impulse to sing was certainly original, and, according to Keble's definition, primary; yet their work was essentially second-rate. Take such a poet as Southey: he composed in a mood which he mistook for solemn inspiration; his poetry was written in obedience to a high and sacred sense of vocation; he—in a letter which cannot be called conceited, for it is written with a serene and stately consciousness of greatness—placed his own poem of Madoc second only to Milton's Paradise Lost. Wordsworth again—writing sometimes from a large and grave inspiration, sometimes from a sense of duty—was he always a primary poet? The fact is that it is almost entirely a matter of expression and style. Many men are poets at heart, and have a vivid and eager consciousness of beauty, but only a small percentage of these have the gift of transmuting it into language. The truth is that secondary poets are mere literary men, dilettanti verse-writers; and all poets who establish a real hold on the minds of others, if it be, as Lovelace, by two lyrics only, or Shirley by one, are primary poets. The thing cannot be done at all without a genuine inspiration; but granted the inspiration, even the mood, the expression is not always there.
Keble, says Principal Shairp, was, when tested by his own theory, a primary poet—that is, his impulse and treatment were alike original. The former of these statements may be granted with certain reservations: The Christian Year is an original book. The idea was an original one and a happy one, though Heber had made a similar attempt. To assign to each of the seasons of the Church a devotional commentary; to enrich the austere and narrow melody of the ecclesiastical tone—running, like its own plain-song, with a severe and plaintive monotony—with chord upon chord of rich and suggestive philosophy, was no ignoble thought. Indeed, the most apt comparison that can be found for Keble is to consider him as a skilful musician, embroidering and enlarging with intricate harmonies, a series of strict and uniform subjects. It is not, indeed, the highest form of art, but it gives scope for the exercise of a wide and tender skill. But Keble had no really original impulse; he required to have his ground-bass found for him, and he could construct a descant of admirable softness and delicacy, while underneath moved the solemn and measured music of the ancient tradition.
As to the originality of the form which he employed, it is impossible to agree with Principal Shairp; indeed, he vitiates his whole case by comparing Keble to George Herbert and Henry Vaughan. Was ever a more inapt comparison made? To begin with, Keble was neither a mystic nor even a symbolist. With George Herbert, and even more with Henry Vaughan, the outward sign, the ordinance, the ornaments of religion were weak and faint foreshadowings of some distant glory, some vast truth dimly understood. But to Keble the form, the ceremony, the material detail of service and sacrament were far too real and desirable. An instance of this is to be found in the poem on Holy Baptism.
Where is it mothers learn their love?
In every church a fountain springs,
O'er which the Eternal Dove
Hovers on softest wings.
What a failure of human perception! It is said that Wordsworth, once reading with admiration the above-mentioned poem, stumbled at the lines I have quoted—the statement that mothers learn their love at the font. "No, no," said the old poet, "it is from their own maternal hearts." Henry Vaughan could never have been betrayed into so intimately unreal a statement as this.
Again, as to technical treatment and form, it would be difficult to select two poets so utterly and radically unlike as George Herbert and Keble. The only point of resemblance is that they are both sometimes unnecessarily obscure; but in George Herbert's case this arises from a curious elaboration of expression, an intensity of compression, an omission of logical steps, a tendency to cram a sentence into a word; while in Keble's case, his obscurity arises from a kind of indefinite garrulity, a tendency to divergence on side issues, a vapid displacement of language.
The eye in smiles may wander round,
Caught by earth's shadows as they fleet,
But for the soul no help is found
Save Him who made it, meet.
What could be more inartistic than the disarrangement of the last two lines? No, the strength of Keble lies in the gentle lucidity of many of his finest poems, never in the arresting force of his epithets, never in intricate and ingenious conceits of language.
The real prototypes of Keble in English literature are Gray and Wordsworth. Keble on more than one occasion echoes the stately and majestic cadence of Gray. Could such a stanza as the following have been written without the example of the "Elegy"?
Why should we faint and fear to live alone,
Since all alone, so Heaven has will'd, we die?
Not even the tenderest heart and next our own
Knows half the reasons why we smile and sigh.
And again, from the "Second Sunday after Easter":
In outline dim and vast
Their fearful shadows cast
The giant forms of empires, on their way
To ruin: one by one,
They tower and they are gone—
Yet in the Prophet's soul the dreams of avarice stay.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
He watched till morning's ray
On lake and meadow lay,
And willow-shaded streams, that silent sweep
Around the banner'd lines,
Where, by their several signs,
The desert-wearied tribes in sight of Canaan sleep.
These sober, grave stanzas have something of the cadence of The Bard. The resemblance to Wordsworth is more general, but it may be said that the tone, the structure, the language of many of Keble's lyrics, the background of Nature in which his thoughts enact their part, the presence of skies and woods and waters, of which he is for ever conscious, for which he is ever grateful, however inaccurately observed and sketched, his innate love of old, traditional, wholesome things, "our peace, our fearful innocence, and pure religion breathing household laws"—all these make Keble a true Wordsworthian.
The qualities of style to which I propose to call attention in Keble are—(1) simplicity; (2) propriety; (3) gravity—all three unpopular qualities enough nowadays, and, therefore, perhaps all the more worthy of study. (1) Simplicity, artistic simplicity, is a noble thing, and as rare as it is noble; it must be beyond and above ornateness; anciently, indeed, before literature had begun to knit her infinite combinations, it was more attainable; but now to be unstudied is to be thin. Art must now be "careless with artful care, affecting to be unaffected." Modern simplicity must show the spareness of asceticism, not the leanness of anæmia. It must arise from the repression of luxuriance, not poverty of spirit; strict simplicity implies the rejection of all startling and glittering tricks of style, and consequently it implies a lordly patience in pursuit, with an indefatigable zeal for the selection of the precise, the majestic, the supreme.
I do not say that Keble was always successful in the pursuit of simplicity. But it was his object all through. Outside the Christian Year, indeed, in the Lyra Innocentium the studied avoidance of the ornamental and the attractive, degenerated into vapid debility. But in the "Morning" and "Evening" poems:
Only, O Lord, in Thy dear love,
Fit us for perfect rest above,
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.
If some poor wandering child of Thine
Have spurned to-day the Voice Divine,
Now Lord, the gracious work begin:
Let him no more lie down in sin.
have the true note of pure directness; how, in the middle of so sweet and low a strain, such a stanza as—
The Rulers of this Christian land,
'Twixt Thee and us ordained to stand—
Guide Thou their course, O Lord, aright,
Let all do all as in Thy sight.
could be intruded, shows us how uncritical, how helpless Keble could be.
Again, consider such a poem as that for the "Second Sunday after
Easter," quoted above,
O for a sculptor's hand, &c.
and some of the stanzas on "St. Matthew's Day":
There are in this loud stunning tide
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide
Of the everlasting chime,
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their daily task with busier feet,
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat;
and again for "Septuagesima":
There is a book who runs may read, &c.
and what is perhaps the finest of all his lyrics, that for "Whitsunday":
When God of old came down from Heaven,
In power and wrath He came:
Before His feet the clouds were riven,
Half darkness and half flame.
Around the trembling mountain's base
The prostrate people lay,
A day of wrath and not of grace,
A dim and dreadful day.
These have the authentic note of grandeur. They are lines that take the heart and imagination captive, and linger in the memory unbidden. It may be, of course, that some of them are consecrated by familiar use, by being connected with moments of emotion and resolution. What an immense, what a sacred power, these writers of liturgical poems wield! but, on the other hand, such familiarity is apt to blind us also to excellence of style. No, the claim of genuine, severe simplicity may be sustained for Keble.
(2) Propriety.—I am using the word, of course, in the extended sense of delicate appositeness, not as the reverse of impropriety.—Keble has a wonderful power, without tricks of rhetoric, of touching in some natural homely feeling with exquisite grace. How could the instinctive dislike of change in familiar surroundings be more pathetically described than in the poem for Whit Monday?
Since all that is not Heaven must fade,
Light be the hand of Ruin laid
Upon the home I love.
With lulling spell let soft decay
Steal on, and spare the giant sway,
The crash of tower and grove.
In such a mood it is so easy to be jealous, to be vindictive, to lose the central thought in invective or unconvincing particularisation.
Again, in a frame of mind that easily drifts into morbidity and despondency, with what pure patience he delineates the vague languors, the unutterable discontents of the soft days of early spring, in the poem for the third Sunday after Easter:
Well may I guess and feel
Why autumn should be sad,
But vernal airs should sorrow heal,
Spring should be gay and glad.
Yet as along this violet bank I rove,
The languid sweetness seems to choke my breath,
I sit me down beside the hazel grove,
And sigh, and half could wish my weariness were death.
And what could be more supremely delicate, more touched with a loving humiliation, than the exquisite line (in the poem on Gunpowder Treason, of all places!),
Speak gently of our sister's fall.
(3) Gravity.—This may be held perhaps to be almost a defect of quality; but in Keble it has a positive value. He, a clerical Wordsworth, so to speak, moved through the world, not indeed without some simple merriment, but without a suspicion of the existence of that deeper and larger mood that we name humour. He never cared to note the odd, bewildering contradictions of humanity, its reckless absurdities, its profound and intimate mirth. Keble's smile, and he is said to have had one, was the grave, bright smile of the contented and joyful spirit, not the secret and refreshing twinkle of the humourist. Indeed, the spirit sickens to recall the pieces resolutely labelled humorous, which have been shamefully made public among his miscellaneous poems. If these were specimens of the wit in which his talk is said to have abounded, it is a matter for deep thankfulness that so few reminiscences of his conversation have survived.
Life was far too serious and momentous to Keble for him to have enjoyed its pitiful contrasts. The only consolations indeed that can prevent a spirit, bounded by so petty a horizon, from becoming sullen or bitter, are perennial humour or intense seriousness. And Keble was as serious as Shelley or Wordsworth. It is not a quality that needs defining by quotation, for every single poem in the Christian Year is penetrated with it from the first line to the last. But in these days, when the issues of life and death, the intricacies of character, the logical truth of fatalism, are matters of after-dinner conversation, it is well to live a little with a mind to whom they were absorbing and fearful realities, too deep for laughter or tears. Keble's inmost instinct was not love, or the sense of beauty, but a resolute and puritanical sternness. He made the mistake, so common to religious spirits, of supposing that the religious instinct is universally implanted, and that whatever the varying quantities of intellect and capacity in an individual, the spiritual faculties are evenly distributed.
Well, such an attitude, if unsympathetic and statuesque, is noble and admirable. It is the temper in which great deeds are done and heroic resolutions formed. It seals Keble one of that honourable minority who clearly see the force of a moral ideal, maintain it in themselves, and demand it from others; and if it is difficult to sympathise with it, it is impossible not to admire it.
It may be urged, then, that on these three grounds Keble may be reckoned among English poets. It will not be on these grounds that he will be most read, but for his pure and sober religious spirit, about which indeed much might be said that would be foreign to the purpose of this essay. But it may be granted that he had a strong perception of beauty, moral and physical, in spite of a certain rigidity of tone; and that he had style, the gift of expression, an artistic ideal, without which no purity of outlook, no exultant sense of beauty, can make a poet. But even if his claim cannot be sustained, even if his writings were not poetry, we may be thankful that for more than half a century there have been spirits so high, so refined, so devoted, as to have been misled by his spiritual ardour, the lofty sublimity of his ideal, as to mistake his refined and enthusiastic utterance for the voice of the genuine bard.