John Addington Symonds (essay date 1885)
SOURCE: A review of At the Sign of the Lyre, in The Academy, No. 705, November 7, 1885, p. 299.
[In the following review, Symonds praises At the Sign of the Lyre, noting graceful lyricism of Dobson's poetry.]
Only a churl, or one indifferent to what is delicate in literature, could find words of censure for this collection of graceful lyrics [At the Sign of the Lyre], so exquisitely finished with accomplished art, so characteristic of their author's genius in the subtle blending of gentle pathos and light humour, so just in criticism both of manners and of letters, so marked by solid English sense amid the refinements of highly studied versification and the quaintnesses of scholarly archaisms. We hail this volume, together with its elder brother, Old-World Idylls, as one of the most perfect products of that latest Anglo-Gallic culture, to which English literature is also indebted for Mr. Lang's Ballades and Rhymes à la Mode, as well as for some of Mr. Edmund Gosse's most artistic work.
Mr. Dobson is so well known as a poet wherever English is spoken that it would be superfluous to dwell at length upon the salient features of his style. Like Caldicott and Edwin Abbey, he has lived by imagination into the spirit of the eighteenth century. Of the manners and mental atmosphere of that period he reproduces in his verse all that is fanciful, urbane, capricious, omitting its grossness and passing with a genial toleration over its darker aspects. The London of Vauxhall and Grub Street, of the Mall and the Ridotto, has become familiar to him not so much in its prosaic reality as in a vision of delightful fairyland. This volume adds a dozen highly finished masterpieces, cabinet pictures of perfect tone and execution, to the gallery of Georgian studies in which our artist excells. The most enjoyable of these, to my mind, are "The Old Sedan Chair," "Molly Trefusis," "The Book-Plate's Petition," "A Familiar Epistle," "The Dilettant," "The Squire at Vauxhall," and "A New Song of Spring Gardens." If I mistake not, these are already so well known to American and English readers that any detailed analysis of their old-world graces would be an impertinence; yet I cannot refrain from calling attention to the consummate skill with which an emptypated connoisseur of the last century is sketched in "The Dilettant."
Just then popped in a passing Beau,
Half Pertness, half Puerilio;
One of those Mushroom Growths that spring
From Grand Tours and from Tailoring;
And dealing much in terms of Art
Picked up at Sale and Auction Mart.
The fellow has at his fingers' ends all the cant phrases of a by-gone age of aesthetic affectation, which, though obsolete now, could easily be paralled by like ephemeral ineptitudes from the slang of South Kensington coteries:
That "Air of Head" is just divine;
That contour Guido, every line;
That forearm, too, has quite the Gusto
Of the third Manner of Robusto.. . .
He glibly hazards more technical criticisms:
The middle Distance, too, is placed
Quite in the best Italian Taste;
And nothing could be more effective
Than the Ordonnance and Perspective.
In short, he is a living epitome of what Mrs. Malaprop called "bigotry and virtue"; and since some incarnation of the...
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