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At the commencement of the year 1885, a captivating little volume of
poems was mysteriously issued from the "Leadenhalle Presse" of Messrs.
Field and Tuer--a quaint, vellum-bound, antique-looking book, tied up on
all sides with strings of golden silk ribbon, and illustrated throughout
with fanciful wood-cuts. It was entitled "Love Letters by a Violinist,"
and those who were at first attracted by its title and suggestive
outward appearance, untied the ribbons with a certain amount of
curiosity. Love-letters were surely of a private, almost sacred
character. What "Violinist" thus ventured to publish his heart-records
openly? and were they worth reading? were the questions asked by the
public, and last, not least, came the natural inquiry, "_Who_ was the
'Violinist'?" To this no satisfactory answer could be obtained, for
nobody knew. But it was directly proved on perusal of the book that he
was a poet, not a mere writer of verse. Speculations arose as to his
identity, and Joseph Ellis, the poet, reviewed the work as follows:--

"Behold a mystery--who shall uncase it? A small quarto, anonymous. The
publisher professes entire ignorance of its origin. Wild guesses spring
from the mask of a 'Violinist'--who can he be? _Unde derivatur?_ A Tyro?
The work is too skilful for such, though even a Byron. Young? Not old.
Tennyson? No--he hath not the grace of style, at least for these verses.
Browning? No--he could not unbend so far. Edwin Arnold might, possibly,
have been equal to it, witness, _inter alia_, 'Violetta'; but he is
unlikely. Lytton Bulwer, a voice from the tomb? No. His son, Owen
Meredith? A random supposition, yet possible. Rossetti--again a voice
from the tomb? No--he wanted the strength of wing. James Thomson, the
younger, could have done it, but he was too stern. Then, our detective
ingenuity proving incompetent, who? We seek the Delphic fane--the oracle
replies _Swinburne_. Let us bow to the oracular voice, for in Swinburne
we find all requisites for the work--fertility of thought, grace of
language, ingenuity, skill in the _ars poetica_, wealth of words,
sensuous nature, classic resources. * * * The writer of the
'Love-Letters' is manifestly imbued with the tone and tune of Italian
poetry, and has the merit of proving the English tongue capable of
rivalling the Italian '_Canzoni d'Amore_.' * * * * He is a master of
versification, so is Swinburne--he is praiseworthy for freshness of
thought, novelty, and aptness in imagery, so is Swinburne. He is
remarkable for sustained energy, so is Swinburne; and thus it may safely
be said that, if not the writer of the 'Love-Letters,' he deserves to be
accredited with that mysterious production, until the authorship is
avowed. * * * * Unto Britannia, as erst to Italia, has been granted a a

Meanwhile other leading voices in the Press joined the swelling chorus
of praise. _The Morning Post_ took up the theme, and, after vainly
endeavouring to clear up the mystery of the authorship, went on to say:
"The appearance of this book must be regarded as a literary phenomenon.
We find ourselves lifted at once by the author's genius out of the
work-a-day world of the England of to-day, and transported into an
atmosphere as rare and ethereal as that in which the poet of Vaucluse
lived and moved and had his being. * * * * In nearly every stanza there
are unerring indications of a mind and heart steeped in that subtlest of
all forms of beauty, the mythology of old Greece. The reader perceives
at once that he has to do with a scholar and man of culture, as well as
with an inspired singer, whose muse need not feel abashed in the
presence of the highest poets of our own day."

Such expressions as, "A new star of brilliant magnitude has risen above
the literary horizon in the anonymous author of the exquisite book of
'Love-Letters,'" and "These poems are among the most graceful and
beautiful productions of modern times," became frequent in the best
literary journals, and private opinion concerning the book began to make
its influence felt. The brilliant writer and astute critic, George
Meredith, wrote to a friend on the subject as follows:--

"The lines and metre of the poems are easy and interthreading and
perfectly melodious. It is an astonishing production--the work of a true
musician in our tongue."

_The Times'_ special correspondent, Antonio Gallenga, expressed himself
at some length on the merits of the "Violinist," and spoke of him "as
one who could conjure up a host of noble thoughts and bright fancies,
who rejoices in a great command of language, with a flow of verse and a
wealth of rhymes. It is impossible to hear his confessions, to follow
him in his aspirations, to hear the tale of his visions, his trances,
his dreams, without catching his enthusiasm and bestowing on him our
sympathy. Each 'Love-Letter' is in twenty stanzas--each stanza in six
lines. The poem is regular and symmetrical as Dante's 'Comedy,' with as
stately and solemn, aye, and as arduous a measure." While the world of
art and letters thus discussed the volume, reading it meanwhile with
such eagerness that the whole edition was soon entirely exhausted, a
particularly brilliant and well-written critique of it appeared in the
New York _Independent_--a very prominent American journal, destined
afterwards to declare the author's identity, and to be the first to do
so. In the columns of this paper had been frequently seen some
peculiarly graceful and impassioned poems, signed by one Eric
Mackay--notable among these being a lyric entitled "The Waking of the
Lark" (included in our present volume), which, to quote the expression
of a distinguished New York critic, "sent a thrill through the heart of
America." There are no skylarks in the New World, but there is a deep
tenderness felt by all Americans for the little

                                  "Priest in grey apparel
    Who doth prepare to sing in air his sinless summer carol,"

and Eric Mackay's exquisite outburst of tender enthusiasm for the
English bird of the morning evoked from all parts of the States a chorus
of critical delight and approbation. The Rev. T. T. Munger, of
Massachusetts, wrote concerning it:--

"This strikes me as the best poem I have seen for a long time. As I read
it stanza after stanza, with not an imperfect verse, not a commonplace,
but with a sustained increase of pure sentiment and glowing fancy, I was
inclined to place it beside Shelley's. It is not so intellectual as
Shelley's, but I am not sure that it is not truer. Mackay's is the lark
itself, Shelley's is himself listening to the lark. Besides Shelley
makes the lark sing at evening--as I believe it does--but surely 'it to
the morning doth belong,' and Shakespeare is truer in putting it at
'Heaven's gate.' It is a great refreshment to us tired workers in the
prose of life to come across such a poem as this, and seldom enough it
happens nowadays. Tell Mr. Eric Mackay to sing us another song."

Paul Hamilton Hayne, an American poet, praised it in an American paper;
and the cultured Maurice Thompson writes:--"This lark-song touches the
best mark of simplicity, sweetness, and naturalness in its modelling."

This admired lyric was copied from the _Independent_ into many other
journals, together with several other poems by the same hand, such as
"A Vision of Beethoven," the beautiful verses addressed to the Spanish
violinist, Pablo de Sarasate, and a spirited reply to Algernon Charles
Swinburne, reproaching him for the attack which the author of "Tristram
of Lyonesse" had made on England's name and fame. One day a simple
statement appeared in the _Independent_ respecting the much discussed
"Love-Letters by a Violinist," that the author was simply a gentleman of
good position, the descendant of a distinguished and very ancient
family, Eric Mackay, known among his personal friends and intimates as a
man of brilliant and extensive learning, whose frequent and long
residences abroad have made him somewhat of a foreigner, though by birth
an Englishman. A fine linguist, a deep thinker, a profound student of
the classics, Mr. Mackay may be ranked among the most cultured and
accomplished men of his day, and still young as he is, will undoubtedly
be numbered with the choice few whose names are destined to live by the
side of poets such as Keats, whom, as far as careful work, delicate
feeling, and fiery tenderness go, Eric Mackay may be said to resemble,
though there is a greater robustness and force in his muse, indicative
of a strong mind in an equally strong and healthy body, which latter
advantage the divine Keats had not, unfortunately for himself and the
world. The innate, hardly restrained vigour of Mr. Mackay's nature shows
itself in such passages as occur in the sonnets, "Remorse," "A
Thunderstorm at Night;" also in the wild and terribly suggestive
"Zulalie," while something of hot wrath and scorn leap out in such lines
as those included in his ode to Swinburne, whom he addresses:--

                                "O thou five foot five
    Of flesh and blood and sinew and the rest."

       *       *       *       *       *

      "Thou art a bee, a bright, a golden thing
    With too much honey, and the taste thereof
    Is sometimes rough, and something of a sting
    Dwells in the music that we hear thee sing."

       *       *       *       *       *


    "Take back thy taunt, I say; and with the same
    Accept our pardon; or if this offend,
    Why, then, no pardon, e'en in England's name.
    We have our country still, and thou thy fame!"

At the same time no one in all England does more justice and honor to
Swinburne's genius than Eric Mackay.

His own strength as a poet suggests to the reader the idea of a spirited
horse reined in tightly and persistently,--a horse which prances wildly
at times and frets and foams at the bit, and might, on the least
provocation, run wild in a furious and headlong career, sweeping all
conventionalities out of its road by a sheer, straight-ahead gallop. Mr.
Mackay is, however, a careful, even precise rider, and he keeps a firm
hand on his restless Pegasus--so firm that, as his taste always leads
him to depict the most fanciful and fine emotions, his steady
resoluteness of restraint commands not only our admiration but our
respect. While passionate to an extreme in the "Love-Letters," he is
never indelicate; the coarse, almost brutal, allusions made by some
writers to certain phases of so-called love, which are best left
unsuggested, never defile the pen of our present author, who may almost
be called fastidious in such matters. How beautiful and all-sufficing to
the mind is the line expressing the utter satisfaction of a victorious

    "_Crowned with a kiss and sceptred with a joy!_"

No details are needed here--all is said. The "Violinist," though by
turns regretful, sorrowful, and despairing, is supreme throughout. He
speaks of the "lady of his song" as

    "The lady for whose sake I shall be strong,
    But never weak or diffident again."

The supremacy of manhood is insisted on always; and the lover, though he
entreats, implores, wonders and raves as all lovers do, never forgets
his own dignity. He will take no second-best affection on his lady's
part--this he plainly states in verse 19 of Letter V. Again, in the last
letter of all, he asserts his mastery--and this is as it should be;
absolute authority, as he knows, is the way to win and to keep a woman's
affections. Such lovely fancies as

      "Phoebus loosens all his golden hair
    Right down the sky--and daisies turn and stare
    At things we see not with our human wit,"


                            "A tuneful noise
    Broke from the copse where late a breeze was slain,
    And nightingales in ecstacy of pain
    Did break their hearts with singing the old joys,"

abound all through the book. And here it is as well to mark the
decision of our poet, even in trifles. The breeze he speaks of is not
_hushed_, or _still_--none of the usual epithets are applied to it--it
is "_slain_," as utterly and as pitifully as though it were a murdered
child. This originality of conception is remarkable, and comes out in
such lines as

    "I will unpack my mind of all its fears"--

where the word "_unpack_" is singularly appropriate, and again--

    "O sweet To-morrow! Youngest of the sons
    Of old King Time, _to whom Creation runs_
    As men to God_."
                    "Where a daisy grows,
    There grows a joy!"

and beautiful and dainty to a high degree is the quaint "Retrospect,"
where the lover enthusiastically draws the sun and moon into his
ecstasies, and makes them seem to partake in his admiration of his
lady's loveliness.

A graver and more philosophic turn of mind will be found in "A Song of
Servitude," and "A Rhapsody of Death;" but, judged from a critical
standpoint, Eric Mackay is a purely passionate poet, straying amongst
the most voluptuous imaginings, and sometimes seeming to despise the
joys of Heaven itself for the sake of love. Thus he lays himself open to
an accusation of blasphemy from ultra-religious persons, yet it must be
remembered that in this respect he in no way exceeds the emotions of
Romeo, and Juliet, Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, or any of those lovers
whose passion has earned for their names an undying celebrity.

In closing the present notice we can but express a hope that this volume
of Eric Mackay's poems may meet with the welcome it deserves from true
lovers of Art; for Art includes Poetry; and Poetry, as properly defined
is one of its grandest and most enduring forms.

                                                                  G. D.

    *** Some of the miscellaneous poems in this collection
    (including "Beethoven at the Piano") were published by the
    author a few years ago, under a pseudonym, now discarded.

[Illustration: PRELUDE Letter I]

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