From 'My Lyrical Life' (1889)

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Extract from a review by Walter Savage Landor.

"I propose to review the works of no ordinary poet--Gerald Massey.  It appears that his station in life is obscure, and his fortune far from prosperous.  Such, also, was the condition of Keats, to whom he bears, in many features of his genius, a marvellous resemblance, I have not the honour (for honour I should think it) to know him personally; therefore, if I should err in my judgment of his merits, the cause of my blindness will not be attributed to an over-heated partiality.  Here are two stanzas of exquisite and almost unrivalled beauty……. There are thoughts and expressions here, and in many other places, which remind us of Shakspeare in the best of his Sonnets.  In these there is nothing comparable to the four lines here below…. I am thought to be more addicted to the Ancients than to the Moderns—wrongfully—for I have never, since I was able to compare, preferred the best of them to Shakspeare and Milton; and at the present time I am trying to recollect any ode, Latin or Greek, more graceful than one in p….. There is something Oriental in these ideas, something of Hafiz, but chastened and controlled. In the lines on Hood—how august an exordium! and how rich and radiant the exhibition of Hood's wit.

"In the first thirty-seven pages there are all these passages, and many more, perhaps of equal beauty.  Here is such poetry as the generous Laureate will read with approbation; such poetry as Jeffrey would have tossed aside with derision, and as Gifford would have torn to pieces in despair. Can anything more or better be said of it?"


Unattributed, dated July 10TH, 1869.

"I have to thank you for your two books, which, I imagine, are not published ; if they are, there are things in them which deserve a great deal more notice than any which they have received.  I mean particularly such things as the passage 'In Memoriam,' from pp. 27-29 (pp. 50-2)."


Matthew Arnold, December 19th, 1869.

"On my return home I find your volume, which I am very glad to possess.  I have not yet read the main poem, but in turning over the leaves of the hook, I have read, and with great interest, many of the shorter poems—'Cousin Winnie,' and 'Thackeray,' in especial.  I think I must have read the 'Thackeray' somewhere or other at the time its subject died, for it seems to come back to me like an old acquaintance.  Strahan brings you out at rather a formidable moment in conjunction with Tennyson, whose new volume calls to so many readers and buyers.  I do not myself think, however, that in this new volume of his he proves—except for the first moment of publication—a dangerous competitor.  Ever sincerely yours...."


John Ruskin.

"DEAR MR. MASSEY,—I rejoice in acknowledging my own debt of gratitude to you for many an encouraging and noble thought, and expression of thought, and my conviction that your Poems in the mass have been a helpful and precious gift to the working classes (I use the term in its highest and widest sense) of the country; few National Services can be greater than that which you have rendered.  Believe me, gratefully yours,......"


Henry Taylor, author of Philip Van Artevelde.

"I got your book at once, and had not read many pages before I saw that we had another English Poet."


Charles Kent in the Sun.

"Everything considered, we may state at once, and without any hesitation, that we regard this 'Tale of Eternity; or the Haunted Hurst,' by Gerald Massey, as the most remarkable of all his productions.  It is for him what 'Aurora Leigh' was for Mrs. Browning—the poet's undoubted masterpiece. For weird power, at once in thought and in language, it is beyond what we had regarded as within the range of Mr. Massey's capacity.  Seldom has a young poet of the large promise of Gerald Massey more fully justified, than he himself has done in the present instance, the reputation won by him at a bound when he first adopted literature as his profession."


Connop Thirlwall, then Bishop of St. Davids.

"It may surprise you to be told that I feel the keenest interest in your 'Cries of '48.' "


A. B. Grosart, Editor of Old English Poets.

"I am grieved beyond measure that you are wasting your magnificent faculty of Singing on some theological problem that a German might go at, but which it is sheer blasphemy against the gift God Almighty has given you, as one in a hundred thousand, for you to weary brain and heart over.  I protest against such flinging away of yourself.  I don't care what the thing may be, if it does not mean SONG.  My beloved brother, I would implore you to recognize your divinely appointed work of MAKER with, as I adjudge you, the first, tenderest, subtlest, most cunning gift possessed by living poet."


Walter Bagehot in the Economist.

"Mr. Gerald Massey has been so favourably introduced to the public by the 'Ballad of Babe Christabel,' and other lyrical poems, that the present volume would probably find its way into most circles unaided by any recommendation but that of its own merits and the success of its predecessors.  Among the longer Poems, 'The Mother's Idol Broken,' and 'Only a Dream,' are almost perfect of their kind.  The remaining ones are equally well written, and contain lines which might appear to indicate higher flights of poetic power; but there is a real dramatic interest in the others which always proves the surest passport to the heart.   The present volume reminds us more of the modern German Poetry of Redwitz and Geibel than of any English Author.  But we must claim for our Countryman a healthier tone and a wiser choice of themes—more of the warm light of common day.  His descriptions of nature show a close observation of her ways, and a delicate appreciation of her beauties.  His images, however subtle and delicately woven, are never false.  In 'The Mother's Idol Broken,' which contains some of the most beautiful and striking imagery in the volume, the feeling is never overpowered and hidden by the working of the Imagination.  We hardly know how to choose, from it, the beauty of the Poem is so well sustained throughout."


James Hannay in the Illustrated Times.

"'The Mother's Idol Broken' is unquestionably the gem of the book.  To speak of it as a cluster of gems would be more just.  It is no unworthy companion to 'In Memoriam.'  To step aside for a moment from the ordinary path of Criticism, let us confess ourselves of the Class for whom they have been written, and thank the author, in the name of his fellow-mourners, for his complete and beautiful expression of their common woe. There are many rich Libraries and many scanty book-shelves in all the lauds where English can be read wherein the Volume containing 'The Mother's Idol Broken' will be found side by side with 'Dombey and Son,' and 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' for more years to come than call be predicted."


Thomas Aird in the Dumfries Herald.

"Rejoicing in the new, free eloquence of our Poetry, disenthralled from the artificial sing-song of Pope, we are equally ready to hail a fresh set of poets in our own day who are pushing out on all sides for varieties of style, measure, and form.  Gerald Massey belongs to the New Choir.  Pathos and love, and a purple flush of beauty steep and colour all his song.  His second volume has all the bloom and richness of the first, and more maturity of thought.  The whole of 'The Mother's Idol Broken' is excellent, 'Lady Laura' is full of exquisite poetry.  The pieces beginning 'Czar Nicholas,' and 'There was a poor old Woman once,' show a new view—a view of deep, quiet sarcasm.  They remind us of Beranger."


Ernest Jones in the People's Paper.

"Gerald Massey has produced another volume of Poems, which contains some of the most beautiful things in English Literature.  The entire annals of literature afford nothing more beautiful, nothing more pathetic than 'The Mother's Idol Broken.'  Gerald Massey's 'Ballad of Inkerman' is decidedly the finest War-Lyric ever produced."


From Hugh Miller's last Leader.

"With all the marked individuality of original genius, Gerald Massey reminds us more of Keats than of any other English Poet; but, with the same rare perception of external beauty, he adds a lyrical power and a depth of feeling which Keats did not possess.  He has but to give his intellect as full scope as his fancy and imagination, and to bestow on his Poems that elaboration and care which high excellence demands from even the happiest geniuses, in order to become one of the enduring lights of British Literature."  


  British Quarterly Review.

"The 'Tale of Eternity' is unquestionably the most remarkable of Mr. Gerald Massey's productions, replete with fine passages, terribly weird in parts, and showing a force of imagination such as only true poets possess.  It is laden with such wealth of language, such beauty of description, such felicities of expression, such happy phrases and smooth alliterations, that glide past unfelt, and such genuine poetry, that those who can trust themselves on enchanted ground may pick up gold and diamonds. 

"Mr. Massey's Poem is full of scientific allusions, and we do not detect any mistakes.  Wheatstone's electric experiments and Humboldt's earthquake experience, Darwin's theories and Huxley's protoplasm, the structure of Saturn's rings and the formation of the Atlantic ooze—all furnish the material for beautiful similes; as do also the phenomena of the spectrum, of complementary colours and the velocity of light, singing flames and sunshine stored in coal, the earth's visibility from the planets, Parry's Arctic experience, Moncrief's discovery for lifting cannon, the leaf-simulating Mantis, and the facts of botany and philosophy. "

The 'Tale of Eternity,' however, constitutes but a fourth part of the volume; and in the remaining parts we have smaller Poems, exquisite gems of songs—musical, rippling, laughing, radiant, compact, rounded, epigrammatic.  Mr. Massey is becoming more decidedly the poet of private life.  Everything homely and healthily natural, everything heartily human, has a special charm for him ; and his judges at last will be not [be] Critics, but Fathers and Mothers.  He writes things about children, about married life, and on death, in a fashion that no other poet has reached.  The sweetness of his verses on children, the tenderness of his lyrics of love, the hushed sanctity of his poems of the grave, are unsurpassed by any poet that we know.  He has sung of the home-circle before, but this time he advances to the inner sanctuary of religious feeling.  He is older now and mellower, more loving and more religious.  He has suffered, and suffering has had a sanctifying influence.  This experience has served him in writing the 'In Memoriam,' inscribed to Lady Marian Alford, on the death of her son, Earl Brownlow, a poem full of thought, and one which Thomas Carlyle, who does not often praise poetry, has called  'Heroic.'



“May the summer day be fair as the spring dawn is bright.  We consider these poems to be most remarkable and interesting.  The love-poems, particularly, are unusually sweet and elegant.  The end of this ‘thing’ ought to be better than the ‘beginning.’”



"In him we have a genuine songster.  He has the true faculty of creative life. ....Few poems in our recent out­growth of poetic literature are finer than some of these. . . . Here is another poet,—and one whose story and position as a teacher and preacher clothe him with unusual interest."

*             *             *             *             *             *             *

"Be the reader as Augustan in his requirements as those who are unreconciled to Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats (and such readers of poetry still exist), he will hardly deny the author of 'Craigcrook Castle' his letters of enrolment among the poets.  His new book is a book of the time, inasmuch as some of its highest strains have been inspired by the war from which we have just issued, our poet thinks, ingloriously; it is a page, too, from the book of his own life,—a page steeped in the real tears of a great sorrow.  In both we hear the earnest, sad, passionate voice which would constrain us to stop and listen,—were the years ever so gay,—were our own hearts ever so ignorant of yearnings for those who will come no more. . . . If we exchange the genial open-air pictures for the house darkened by sorrow, we shall find the music of the song grow truer, deeper, and more impassioned.  There are few more touching revelations of Bereavement. 'The Mother's Idol Broken' is a series of death-poems, which no mother will read without tears.  In 'Glimpses of the War' will be found not a few fiery stanzas and noble lines.  Here is a dirge with a music in its wail which reminds us of some wild national keen or coronach.  Much more—some ripe in beauty, some rich in promise—could be cited from this volume; but the above will lead many to read it, and justify the enjoyment and the hope we have found in the appearance of one so full of some of Poetry's most gracious gifts. "


London Review.

"Brave, honest, free-spoken Gerald Massey!  Assuredly it is no vain speculation to suppose that the name of such a poet will become a household word amongst millions; that his writings will be regarded as a precious jewel amongst their domestic treasures; that wherever the English tongue is spoken, and an English heart beats with paternal love, or  throbs for liberty, there will the poems of Gerald Massey be received with welcome."


London Quarterly Review.

"His love-poetry is very pure and sweet, and frequently rivals the most genuine strains of Burns.

"To him, indeed, we owe the sweetest songs of courtship, the merriest marriage-ditties, and the most touching lays of child-life, that have ever been given to the world."


Agnostic Journal.

"A great Poet still among us only half recognized. Gerald Massey is one of the few genuine Poets in this England of to-day."


Saturday Review.

“In our own times the trammels of poverty have not kept down the rising strength and indomitable vigour of Gerald Massey."


The Guardian.

"In whatever part of the field of literature we meet him, he deserves recognition as a writer of earnestness and ability, who has achieved success under circumstances which, in the case of the vast majority of men, would have involved total failure.''