Laurence Hope has succeeded where most modern poets have failed, older and greater than this woman who died so young. She has created for herself a world of admirers, a multitude of initiants--a Public. Therefore she is bound to fascinate those who diligently inquire into the modern mind, and who love to grasp the elusive psychology of the present. Nor will this essay refer to metre, style, and phrase, except so far as these subtleties exemplify the character and ideals of this curiously sincere poetess. Other muses of to-day are widely loved. Imperial Muses, worthy of all respect: but there is as little mystery about their attractions as doubt of their divinity. It is harder to account for nine impressions of "The Garden of Kama." An outworn Byronism, a desperately sentimental affection for the sonorous names of the fantastic East, can partly explain this popularity; nor can we overlook a half-scandalous appetite for free speech. But the true cause must be sought in the nature of the feminine--in the appreciation of Laurence Hope by her sex.
With all allowance be it said, we have never before had an English poet who was a woman. The wise are beginning to observe that Mrs. Browning hardly ever wrote a line that was structurally good; the veiled majesty and demure sorrow of Christina Rossetti proclaim her a recluse and a devotee. Alone has the authoress of "The Garden of Kama" set down for us with unflinching truth and vigour a woman's point of view.[<164]
And the expression of this view is so rare as to be extremely precious. The famous women of prose and poetry have been of two main types. They have been given force without grace, or grace without force. We adore, but would not marry, Clytemnestra; we love, but do not fear, Desdemona. As far as failure was possible for him, Shakespeare's women are failures, or at any rate half-truths. Terrible women are for him wicked, almost masculine creatures--Goneril, Regan, Lady Macbeth. His gentler women, his Portias and Olivias, have not really an individuality or power of their own, but rather a whimsical humour in lieu thereof, charming but not profound. Perhaps Whitman, perhaps Swinburne, have come nearer to the truth; but only woman can reveal her Self.
It is immediately necessary to reassure those who suspect that the tremendous error--some would say insult--is intended of imagining all women to be the wild untrammelled creatures of impulse, the primitive and savage beings that Laurence Hope would have them to be, at all events in India. It would be as ridiculously unjust as to judge men from the types of Don Juan or Vautrin. Yet perhaps more of her sex sympathise with this elemental Muse of the whirlwind than would ever care to own or be able to realise the slightest affinity. Nor, again, is our poetess artist enough to give us a perfect presentation, or wide-minded enough to give us a complete one. But she has left us hopeful for the literature of the future--hopeful that she has made it easier for women to come into their heritage, and that these rough Atellane commencements may lead to nobler success than woman's old docility and clever imitation of male writers could ever have achieved.
Laurence Hope, then, is a sincere but imperfect artist; and this is no uncommon combination. How often may one not observe that certain crude verses, sadly marred by parodies of great and famous lines--verses where the expression of the thought is abrupt and obscure, yet whose precipices are sometimes visited by a gleam of atoning fancy--seem to ring more true than exquisite phrase and swelling harmony? Thus it is [<165] that ingenuous youth, if it be compounded of the true spirit of revolution, will ever prefer "The City of Dreadful Night" to "Paradise Lost," and will continue in the same sort of predilection till overtaken by that age of ice when rhetoric is an abhorrence, metre a study, wisdom a delight.
And if ingenuous youth be seeking sincerity rather than poetry, he may not have gone far from the path. In the throes of despair or passion the almost involuntary whispers of an imaginative mind are stray echoes of phrases we have loved, grotesquely blended with the stage-worn rhetoric of the occasion. Yet to imagine that these literal and personal transcriptions, however earnest, are likely to be valuable [in? as?] literature is an obvious error. When the faculties of a writer are so concentrated, so technically supreme, that the sensations cannot become vilified by borrowed or inadequate or inharmonious language, then are worthy poems of experience written not less sincere and far more splendid.
Now, page after page of Laurence Hope's poetry is marred by lilts and jangling tunes and passages of sentimental prettiness that, so far from breathing of the East, savour of that most Occidental invention, the music-hall: so that she who knew the East so well can here remind us of nothing more sublime than that factitious Orient represented by the decorations on a Turkish bath. The most serious of feminine failings, that of taking prettiness for beauty and petulance for passion, spoils about two-thirds of her work. Though she makes some not unpleasant experiments in new metres, she is sadly failing in the must elementary knowledge of verse structure, and she never attains to the stern and austere beauty of self-restraint. yet take lines such as these:
Woman have often been credited by men with an intuition of moral worth. Is it not rather an intuition of beauty, in inferior cases an intuition of prettiness, that they possess, depending for its value on a dark, unexplored connection between outward and inward loveliness?
Beside the illogical and ardent cult of beauty, besides the passionate sensuality that it accompanies and suggests, the other startling characteristic of such women as Laurence Hope loves to describe is the passivity that accompanies their passions and is in love with the most relentless brute force: