1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Howitt

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:462.



This lady, the wife of William Howitt, an industrious miscellaneous writer, is distinguished for her happy imitations of the ancient ballad manner. In 1823 she and her husband published a volume of poems with their united names, and made the following statement in the preface: "The history of our poetical bias is simply what we believe, in reality, to be that of many others. Poetry has been our youthful amusement, and our increasing daily enjoyment in happy, and our solace in sorrowful hours. Amidst the vast and delicious treasures of our national literature, we have revelled with growing and unsatiated delight; and, at the same time, living chiefly in the quietness of the country, we have watched the changing features of nature; we have felt the secret charm of those sweet but unostentatious images which she is perpetually presenting, and given full scope to those workings of the imagination and of the heart, which natural beauty and solitude prompt and promote. The natural result was the transcription of those images and scenes."

A poem in this volume serves to complete a happy picture of studies pursued by a married pair in concert:—

Away with the pleasure that is not partaken!
There is no enjoyment by one only ta'en:
I love in my mirth to see gladness awaken
On lips, and in eyes, that reflect it again.
When we sit by the fire that so cheerily blazes
On our cozy hearthstone, with its innocent glee,
Oh! how my soul warms, while my eye fondly gazes,
To see my delight is partaken by thee!

And when, as how often, I eagerly listen
To stories thou read'st of the dear olden day,
How delightful to see our eyes mutually glisten,
And feel that affection has sweetened the lay.
Yes, love — and when wandering at even or morning,
Through forest or wild, or by waves foaming white,
I have fancied new beauties the landscape adorning,
Because I have seen thou wast glad in the sight.

And how often in crowds, where a whisper offendeth,
And we fain would express what there might not be said,
How dear is the glance that none else comprehendeth,
And how sweet is the thought that is secretly read!
Then away with the pleasure that is not partaken!
There is no enjoyment by one only ta'en:
I love in my mirth to see gladness awaken
On lips, and in eyes, that reflect it again.

Mrs. Howitt again appeared before the world in 1834, with a poetical volume entitled The Seven Temptations, representing a series of efforts, by the impersonation of the Evil Principle, to reduce human souls to his power. "The idea of the poem originated," she says, "in a strong impression of the immense value of the human soul, and of all the varied modes of its trials, according to its own infinitely varied modifications, as existing in different individuals. We see the awful mass of sorrow and of crime in the world, but we know only in part — in a very small degree, the fearful weight of solicitations and impulses of passion, and the vast constraint of circumstances, that are brought into play against suffering humanity. In the luminous words of my motto,

What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted.

Thus, without sufficient reflection, we are furnished with data on which to condemn our fellow-creatures, but without sufficient grounds for their palliation and commiseration. It is necessary, for the acquisition of that charity which is the soul of Christianity, for us to descend into the depths of our own nature; to put ourselves into many imaginary and untried situations, that we may enable ourselves to form some tolerable notion how we night be affected by them; how far we might be tempted — how far deceived — how far we might have occasion to lament this evil power of circumstances, to weep over our own weakness, and pray for the pardon of our crimes; that, having raised up this vivid perception of what we might do, suffer, and become, we may apply the rule to our fellows, and cease to be astonished, in some degree, at the shapes of atrocity into which some of them are transformed; and learn to bear with others as brethren, who have been tried tenfold beyond our own experience, or perhaps our strength."

Mrs. Howitt has since presented several volumes in both prose and verse, chiefly designed for young people. The whole are marked by a graceful intelligence and a simple tenderness which at once charm the reader and win his affections for the author.