Page 7, 15th January 1937

15th January 1937
Page 7
Page 7, 15th January 1937 — Once Upon A Time . S • •

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Locations: Oxford


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Once Upon A Time . S • •


Upwards of forty years have passed since the death of Coventry Patmore. To all but the elderly, therefore, there is justification for including in this series of articles something about a writer whom Alice Mcynell, herself a fine craftswoman in the art, estimated as "one of the major poets of the nineteenth century." Patmore's conversion to the Catholic faith, an event which occurred soon after the death of his first wife, puts him into what could be a long list of poet converts, a list starting, for convenience, with Dryden and running on to our own time with Chesterton, and Campbell and Noyes.

Patmore's most popular, if not his greatest poem, The Angel in the House. remains widely known and has been reissued in this century; therefore less than chief attention need be given here to that famous versified love story. What will perhaps be more interesting to the present generation will be to recall the poet's association, several, years before the Angel fluttered a wing in public, with an enterprise which attained only to posthumous fame—The Germ, The "P.R.B." Organ

In the year 1850, four numbers appeared of a little magazine enshrining some of the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in literature, poetry and art. Although The Germ. in its sub-title, turned its " thoughts towards Nature," circumstance proved unkind in that in Nature's own springtime the venture died. The public would not find a shilling monthly to keep the magazine going; but there came a time, long afterwards, when the four issues, in their paper covers, changed hands for hundreds of pounds—such is the eccentricity of acquisitiveness!

Coventry Patmore's contributions were printed in the first three numbers; with its Number Three The Germ was dropped as a title and Art and Poetry took its place. At first there was entire anonymity as to the writers; the opening number prints no names. Only in the case of a young artist, one Holman Hunt, is there a modest identification of work. Number Two printed names. but not all of them : many years later when the editor, W. M. Rossetti, supplied the missing data in this respect, he wrote, of Patmore, that " he withheld his name, much to our disappointment."

Patmore wrote for the magazine two small poems : " The Seasons," and "Stars and Moon." the latter a foretaste of the longer work in its theme of wedded bliss; also a prose essay. an examination of the character of Macbeth.

James Collinson

But Patmore, whose conversion was as yet many years in the future, was not the chief religious influence in The Germ's pages,. By far the most considerable poem. in length, appeared in the second number, from the pen of the painter, James Collinson, who also illustrated it with an etching.

Now Collinson, although he has his niche in the D.N.B.. seems hardly to be remembered otherwise among the nineteenth century's converts to the faith. His lines on " The Child Jesus. a Reoord typical of the five Sorrowful Mysteries," showed their author in an unaccustomed role; for—to quote again W. M. Rossetti--" Collinson . .. was hardly a writing man, and I question whether he had produced a line of verse prior to undertaking this by no means trivial task ' The Child Jesus is, 1 think, the only poem of any importance that he ever wrote." It is added that Millais, when shortly afterwards in Oxford, found that the poem had made some sensation there.

Had The Germ lived, it is likely that Coventry Patmore would have put much more of his work into it: and we may speculate whether James Collinson•s pious vein would have proved him. in time, as adept with the pen as with the brush.

It is no more than a coincidence that both 17107 took the Holy Child for a de votional theme. Their muse was unequal: nobody can doubt Patmore's superiority to Collinson as a poet; but then, as we have seen, the latter " was hardly a writing man."

One Poet on Another

Patmore, on the other hand, wrote much. and in "The Child's Purchase " he has left us the prologue to what was meditated as a great poem in honour of Our Lady, a work which never came to fruition.

Little, it has been said, is nowadays known or remembered of Coventry Patmore's personality. the personality of one whose hand. in Francis Thompson's vivid phrase, . . heel lightning-holt: the oilier et milk eiet honey bleat with fire.

To those who would capture a visual impression of the man, there is Sargent's half-length canvas in the National Portrait Gallery, a gift to the nation from the poet's widow.

G. E. A.

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