W. A. MacKenzie (essay date 1912)
SOURCE: "The Works of Richard Middleton," in The Bookman, London, Vol. XLII, No. 250, July, 1912, pp. 172-73.
[In the following review of Poems and Songs and The Ghost Ship, and Other Stories, MacKenzie lauds the strength of Middleton's prose while suggesting that his poetry lacks "nerve and vigour.'"
One rises from the reading of [Poems and Songs and The Ghost Ship and Other Stories] with the feeling that the end of Richard Middleton came all too soon; that his passage under the stars finished at too early an hour; that his nine and twenty years were but so much promise; and that full achievement lay just beyond the short Night he did not fear but rather sought. One feels that; and yet the feeling may be but a will o' the wisp to lead us astray; very likely it is. Must we consider the man and his work? Must we sever the work from the man? It is not given to all to know the singer, but the first man met in the street may judge the song.
I am, for the moment, concerned with Richard Middleton's song; and I confess that I find it of a monotony which may be divine, but which is—there can be no denial—wearisome. He had many rhythms—he sought variety as he sought pleasure, avidly—but the song was the same, the substance and stuff of it were ever the same: he did not sing dreams, he sang of dreams he had had. The casual reader will say at once: "Richard Middleton was a dreamer." That is just what he was not; he was a man who said he had had dreams, but if dreams he had he kept them jealously to himself, and the hungry of the earth want more from their poets than a disdainful or a pitiful:
I have seen God: but, hush! I may not speak.
And so, because Richard Middleton does not tell his dream, we are minded to fit him with Mr. Arthur Symons' estimate of that other strange departed sprite, Ernest Dowson: "He was not a dreamer; destiny passes by the dreamer, sparing him because he clamours for many things. He was a child, clamouring for so many things, all impossible."
In the intervals of "clamouring for so many things," Richard Middleton sang some fine things, things quite pure and exquisite. Almost perfect is this "Nocturne":
When Sleep puts on the cloak of Death,...
And in the city masquerades,
Earth's tired children fight for breath,
And they who sought the dreamy glades
Fall panting on the road, and lie
Like clods beneath the sombre sky.
(The entire section is 1064 words.)