1851 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alaric Alexander Watts

David Macbeth Moir, in Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 290-91.



To a taste still more fastidious and elaborate [than that of Bernard Barton], Alaric A. Watts united a vein of pathos probably deeper and more direct. His poetry lies somewhere between that of Campbell and Mrs. Hemans; but he has his own decided and distinctive marks, whether we look to his mode of regarding subjects, or his style of treating them. He is always elegant and refined, yet natural; and looks on carelessness, as every man of taste and accomplishment should, as a vice unworthy of an artist; for poetry assuredly requires the learned skill, intuitive as that may occasionally seem, as well as the teeming fancy. In his Poetic Sketches, an early work, as well as in his more recent Lyrics of the Heart, Alaric Watts has given abundant proofs, if not of high creative strength, of gentle pathos, of cultivated intellect, and an eye and ear sensitively alive to all the genial impulses of nature, of "home-bred delights and heartfelt happiness."

Not that we have not occasionally indications of higher powers, which their author could put forth, had he so chosen, but from which he has abstained, and wisely — choosing rather to paint the stream as it passes through pastoral valleys, and by the garden hedges of honey-suckled homesteads, than its foaming descent from the mountain-sides, and its sullen pools amid the gloomy overhanging rocks. Among the finest of the lyrics of Alaric Watts are The Death of the First-Born, To a Sleeping Child, Kirstall Abbey Revisited, For Ever Thine, and We met when Life and Love were New — although no piece has received the sanction of his publication, unless stamped by some peculiar and characteristic beauty. The following verses To a Child blowing Bubbles, are about a fair average of his powers:—

Thrice happy babe! what radiant dreams are thine,
As thus thou bid'st thine air-born bubbles soar;—
Who would not Wisdom's choicest gifts resign
To be, like thee, a careless child once more?

To share thy simple sports and sinless glee:
Thy breathless wonder, thy unfeigned delight,
As, one by one, those sun-touched glories flee,
In swift succession, from thy straining sight;

To feel a power within himself to make,
Like thee, a rainbow whereso'er he goes;
To dream of sunshine, and like thee to wake
To brighter visions, from his charmed repose;—

Who would not give his all of worldly lore,
The hard-earned fruits of many a toil and care,—
Might lie but thus the faded past restore,
Thy guileless thoughts and blissful ignorance share!

Yet life hath bubbles too, that soothe awhile
The sterner dreams of man's maturer years;
Love, Friendship, Fortune, Fame by turns beguile,
But melt 'neath Truth's Ithuriel touch to tears.

Thrice happy child! a brighter lot is thine;
What new illusion ere can match the first?
We mourn to see each cherished hope decline;
Thy mirth is loudest when thy bubbles burst.