Alexander Smith Criticism - Essay

George Gilfillian (essay date 1851)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A New Poet in Glasgow," in The Critic, London, Vol. X, No. 256, December 1, 1851, pp. 567-68.

[Gilfillian is the critic credited with discovering and encouraging Smith. The following article, the second on Smith by Gilfillian, introduced Smith to about six thousand readers before he had even published a book of poetry, and caused Smith's first volume to be eagerly anticipated. Here, Gilfillian favorably compares Smith to Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge, saying Smith has the potential to become a genius poet.]

Discoverers are often a much injured class of men. Sometimes the worth of their object is denied, sometimes their claim to the fact of finding it out is...

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Charles Kingsley (review date 1853)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE : "Alexander Smith and Alexander Pope," in Fraser's Magazine for Town & Country, Vol . XLVIII, No. CCLXXXVL , October, 1853, pp. 452-66.

[In the following excerpt, Kingsley derides Smith's works by saying that the shortcomings of Poems are the fault of Smith imitating too closely the works of other writers.]

On reading this little book, [Poems, by Alexander Smith] and considering all the exaggerated praise and exaggerated blame which have been lavished on it, we could not help falling into many thoughts about the history of English poetry for the last forty years, and about its future destiny. Great poets, even true poets, are becoming more and...

(The entire section is 4230 words.)

Arthur Hugh Clough (review date 1853)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Review of Some Poems by Alexander Smith and Matthew Arnold," in Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough, edited by Mrs. Clough, Macmillan and Co., 1888, pp. 355-78.

[Clough was an author, poet, and critic who wrote in both England and America during the late nineteenth century. Letters to his fiancé show that Clough originally liked Smith's work, especially A Life Drama, but lost enthusiasm for it before his first review of Smith was printed. The following excerpt is from a joint review of Matthew Arnold's and Smith's works, originally published in the North American Review, July, 1853. In it, Clough contends that despite "imperfections of style and taste," Smith's...

(The entire section is 3627 words.)

W. E. Aytoun (review date 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Alexander's Smith's Poems," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. LXXV, No. CCCCLXI, March, 1854, pp. 345-51.

[In the review below, Aytoun became one of the first to label Smith a "Spasmodic" poet, a term that would remain with Smith his entire life. The critic characterized Spasmodic poetry as unoriginal and profane. In this essay, he criticizes Smith for using an excessive amount of imagery that does not further the thematic development of his poems. Several months after publishing this piece, Aytoun continued his attack on the Spasmodic poets by writing a parody of a Spasmodic tragedy (see following essay).]

Some time ago a volume of poems...

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W. E. Aytoun (essay date 1854)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Firmilian: A Tragedy," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. LXXV, No. CCCCLXIII, May, 1854, pp. 533-51.

[Here, Aytoun continues his criticism of the Spasmodic poets. Claiming to have discovered a Spasmodic tragedy, The Firmilian, written by a hitherto unknown author. T. Percy Jones, Aytoun provides extensive quotes from the tragedywhich is in fact his own satire of the Spasmodic styleinterspersed with an ironic commentary. While the essay does not mention Smith by name, by this time Aytoun had identified the few writers he considered Spasmodic, of which Smith was one. This parody further damaged Smith's reputation, and he was unable to shake the...

(The entire section is 7990 words.)

The Athenœum (essay date 1857)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of City Poems, in The Athenaeum, No. 1556, August 22, 1857, pp. 1055-57.

[Here, the anonymous critic claims that ideas in Smith's City Poems were taken from works of other authors, and that Smith has neither the "vision nor the faculty divine" to be a great poet.]

A strange poetical propaganda came in a few years ago, with Apollodorus or Somebody Conqueror. The young gentlemen who followed his banner appeared to be by birth flighty, by education ungrammatical, by transmutation poets. They were all more or less subject to ethereal prospects, opinions, and starry influences. They saw strange visions and dreamt impossible similitudes. In...

(The entire section is 3017 words.)

David Mason (essay date 1867)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Alexander Smith," in Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. 15, February 15, 1867, pp. 342-52.

[In the following excerpt, written soon after Smith's death, Mason eulogizes Smith's writing career and refutes common criticisms of his work.]

On the 5th of last month Alexander Smith died in his house at Wardie, near Edinburgh, at the age of thirty-six. The degree of feeling evoked by this event in different quarters has varied, of course, with the different estimates that had been formed of the worth of the deceased—his place and likelihood in that portion of the British literature of our time to which he was a contributor, but the other contributors to which have been, and...

(The entire section is 6026 words.)

Thomas Brisbane (essay date 1869)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "In Edinburgh," in The Early Years of Alexander Smith, Hodder & Stoughton, 1869, pp. 177-203.

[In the following excerpt, Brisbane recounts the effects that criticismparticularly W. E. Aytoun's satire Firmilian—had on Smith both professionally and personally.]

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Stephen Henry Thayer (essay date 1891)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Alexander Smith," in The Andover Review, Vol. 15, No. LXXXVI, February, 1891, pp. 163-72.

[Here, Thayer chronicles the development of maturity in Smith's writing, from his first labeling as a spasmodic poet, to the complex issues addressed in his essays. ]

When rare men die young, such as mark their way with presagings of genius, we cherish their work as we do the visions of the upland, while yet are denied to us the grander reaches from mountain heights. Much as we prize the impulse of these potential minds, age alone gives to their thought that ripe distinction and maturity which shall make them indisputable masters; hints of power, of resources, open...

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James Ashcroft Noble (essay date 1895)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mr. Stevenson's Forerunner," in The Yellow Book, Vol. IV, January, 1895, pp. 121-42.

[In the following essay, Noble examines the autobiographical elements in Smith's prose as well as his use of picturesque detail.]

For a long time—I can hardly give a number to its years—I have been haunted by a spectre of duty. Of late the visitations of the haunter have recurred with increasing frequency and added persistence of appeal; and though, like Hamlet, I have long dallied with the ghostly behest, like him I am at last compelled to obedience. Ghosts, I believe, have a habit of putting themselves in evidence for the purpose of demanding justice, and my ghost makes...

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Hugh Walker (essay date 1914)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Dreamthorp: With Selections from "Last Leaves," by Alexander Smith, Oxford University Press, 1914, pp. v-xxv.

[In the essay below, Walker proposes that Smith should be considered among the greatest English prose writers. ]

Alexander Smith, the author of Dreamthorp, was born at Kilmarnock in Ayrshire on the last day of the year 1830, and died near Edinburgh on January 5, 1867. His whole life, therefore, covered little more than half the allotted span, and what we may call his effective life—deducting the years of immaturity—was considerably less than half of what is normal. Yet in these thirty-six years Smith touched almost the...

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Herbert B. Grimsditch (essay date 1925)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Alexander Smith: Poet and Essayist," in The London Mercury, Vol. XII, No. 69, July, 1925, pp. 284-94.

[In the following essay, Grimsditch argues that while Smith's poetry is noteworthy because of its imagery, Smith deserves high regard as a prose writer because of the personal nature of and the humor found in his essays.]

In literature, as in life, there is no fixed ratio between merit and reward, whether reward be taken to mean popularity and pecuniary gain or posthumous renown. Posterity, it is true, does sort out the authors who were undeniably great and relentlessly eliminates those who were undoubtedly little; but between these two extremes are placed a...

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Richard Murphy (essay date 1948)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Alexander Smith on the Art of the Essay," in If by Your Art: Testament to Percival Hunt, edited by Agnes Lynch Starrett, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1948, pp. 239-50.

[Here Murphy praises Smith for his work as an essayist and as "an illuminator of the essay as a literary genre."]

Should you look up Alexander Smith's biography, as Christopher Morley once threatened to do in prefacing an edition of Dreamthorp,1 you discover he was a "Scottish poet, one of [the] chief representatives of the spasmodic school,"2 who lived from 18303 to 1867. So has the author of Dreamthorp been tagged and stored away...

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Mary Jane W. Scott (essay date 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Alexander Smith: Poet of Victorian Scotland," in Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. XIV, 1979, pp. 98-111.

[Below, Scott maintains that Smith used his personal experience in mid-Victorian Scotland as the basis for his poetry.]

"It ought .. . to be distinctly recognised that, whatever he is by birth, Mr. Smith is not a Scottish poet, if we understand by that a poet of a certain supposed national type. It is not Scottish scenery, Scottish history, Scottish character, and Scottish social humours that he represents or depicts," wrote David Masson in 1853.1 Scots critic Masson must have held a very narrow definition of that "supposed national...

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Richard Cronin (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Alexander Smith and the Poetry of Displacement," in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer, 1990, pp. 129-45.

[In the following essay, Cronin asserts that A Life Drama reflects the life-long despair Smith felt at not being part of the exclusive poetic circle of England.]

Bound up with A Life Drama in Alexander Smith's first volume is a poem called "An Evening at Home."1 The title with its promise of cozy domesticities is glumly ironical. Forty miles to the South is Ayrshire where Smith was born, and a lost dream of peasant community, "The Cotter's Saturday Night."2 Even farther away, is another dream, an evening...

(The entire section is 8285 words.)