An Introduction to a book wears the sad aspect of an advocate addressing a frigid jury. The foreword should be an afterword, and find its place in an appendix, if anywhere. When we have an Introduction to a volume of poems, reviewers, even modern reviewers, might take it as a plea in apology or for favour. But modern reviewers are indulgent. How great the difference between them and those of the old order is brought to my mind by a criticism in an aged Quarterly Review (not the Quarterly nor the Edinburgh though they had their merits) of Coleridge's "Christabel," in which there was the quotation—
“'Tis a month before the month of May,
And the Spring comes slowly up this way.”
Upon this was the comment, “Why could not Mr. Coleridge tell us plainly that it was the month of April?” We are in a clearer atmosphere at present, as to reviewers, whatever may be said of the poets. Nevertheless an Irishwoman writing from her heart of the legends of her country and the superstitions of the peasantry, may have her way smoothed in advance by some consideration of the Celtic mind. And she writes ballads, too, which are rather in disfavour now.
The mind of the Celt has been much discussed. It is generally taken to be overpoweringly emotional, vapourish as well, and fantastical, remote, divorced from reality. Such is the impression of it on the Saxon mind. But reality has more than one way of speaking. The rightly poetic is only another language for flat prose. Thus a fair young cousin loves a gallant lord, and he gives her a kiss on the cheek as he rides away, caring but for the chase. She vows in her heart that he shall have his wish: she swallows a potion. Red Richard sees a white doe ahead of him, and pursues her; she has the dark eyes of his cousin; day after day she flits before the exasperated hunter until at last his spear transfixes her. Returning home, he finds the corpse of his cousin, his spear buried in her breast. Prose would put it that Red Richard, preferring the chase, like Adonis, was teased by his fair cousin's affection, and ultimately caused her death by his cruelty. Facts work on the Celtic mind in its imaginative exercise like flame of a lamp crossing the eyelids of a sleeper. Symbolism swallows Reality, but Reality is read through it, if we take the trouble.
A false rhyme may be found in this poet's ballads. There has been of late a cry for the more rigid enforcement of rhyme; strange to hear when the many writers of verse are wearing the poor stock we have to shreds. That hard consonantal smack on the ear of an exact similarity of sound is required in what is called our heroic verse, which relies for its effect on the timely clapper. In lyrics the demand for music is imperative, and as quantity is denied to the English tongue, rhymes there must be. Unhappily the monosyllables chiefly in request are a scanty lot Attempt to translate Heine, and our weakness in dissyllables baffles the experiment. An unrivalled instrumentalist like Mr. Swinburne, prince of lyrists, does marvels with the language. Lesser men, however correct their rhyming, betray the cramp of their hand in frequent repetitions of the rhymes. We can generally anticipate the line as well as rhyme to come. A ballad, of which the main point is to tell a story metrically, is not bound to strictness in rhyme; for the mind is made more attentive than the ear. Mrs. Dora Sigerson Shorter has the gift of metrical narrative. Her gentle sincerity holds her to the story. Even when her emotions are not roused, the art of compression and progression, as in “The Dean of Santiago,” is shown. Among the minor pieces “The Vagrant Heart” will strike an echo in many a woman's breast. Further work, especially ballads, is to be expected from her, Irish or other. Her country supplies one of the richest of fields.