"Style" by Archibald Lampman
(Edited and Introduced by Sue Mothersill)
At the Conference on Editorial Problems held at the University of Toronto in 1972, the reliability of Canadian texts was seriously questioned. Francess G. Halpenny, editor of the proceedings of the Conference, states in her introduction that "virtually nothing"1 had been done to ensure the quality of Canadian texts. This first edition of "Style," a critical essay by Archibald Lampman, is an attempt to produce a reliable text which the author would approve. Its primary aims have been accuracy of transcription and a faithful adherence to Lampman's own prose style.
"Style" is an undated, unsigned, holograph manuscript held by the Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa. It is clearly written, in ink, on 53 consecutively numbered sheets measuring 20 cm. x 26.5 cm. Although the essay is incomplete, Lampman's remarks in the final paragraphs indicates that he eras preparing to conclude his discussion. It is therefore very likely that little more than a page is missing.
The manuscript was transcribed by means of a computerized word-processing system which facilitates editorial changes and eliminates retyping. Nothing has been deleted from the essay. In order to retain the tone of Lampman's prose style, editorial changes have been kept to a minimum. Spelling has been corrected but not modernized, and abbreviations have been expanded. When punctuation (or lack of it) obscures the sense of the essay, appropriate alterations have been made. The rare omission of words or syllables has also been corrected. In addition, all quoted matter is presented exactly as Lampman transcribed it. He often omits quotation marks around the titles of poems or plays, and these have been added. The only other editorial recomendations made are the obvious completion of brackets and quotation marks and the addition of apostrophes.
No editorial symbols have been used in this edition. The clear text presentation of Lampman's essay underscores the primacy of the text and facilitates the reading process by eliminating obtrusive signs of the editor's presence. A scholarly edition, however, should not only supply information on the state of the manuscript and the kind of alterations made in the edited text. It should also provide a list of all editorial emendations so that an interested reader could reproduce the manuscript in all of its detail. Such a list has been prepared for "Style," but lack of space publication here. The list of emendations, textual notes and brief annotations will soon be available in this writer's forthcoming thesis, at present being prepared at Carleton University's Institute of Canadian Studies in Ottawa.
The essence of a writer's style is a very elusive thing. In the essay entitled "Poetic Interpretation," Lampman wrote: "The perfect poet, it may be said, would have no set style. He would have a different one for everything he should write, a manner exactly suited to the subject . . ."2 Style is the result not only of a distinctive selection of words and phrases to express thought or feeling, but even of the manner in which the writer chooses to emphasize his thoughts through punctuation. In an unpublished section of the same essay, Archibald Lampman reveals that he was aware of this fact when he commented on a portion of Keats's poem "Hyperion":
Lampman's thoughts on a subject barely touched upon in "Poetic Interpretation" are here presented in an edition which attempts to reflect the "harmony" peculiar to his own prose style.
Style I suppose might be defined as the habit or manner given to expression by the prevalence of a certain mental attitude peculiar to any individual or class of individuals or any age. A style therefore is the exact opposite of an affectation, which is an assumed habit or manner of expression. Style as we know is not a quality peculiar to literature, but may be found in every sort of expression when carried to a certain point of culture, in action, in speech, in literature, and in all the arts. We know how noticeable the quality of style is in the conduct and bearing of many people who have a decided mental character and have mingled freely in the activities of the world. We observe in them a habitual manner of address, of speech, of bearing, a way they have of carrying off everything, which seems perfectly natural to them, but might seem quite unnatural in others. In its finest development this style or manner as we call it is a revelation of character, but often in those whose contact with the world has been too full, or has perhaps been attended with bitterness it comes to be in part a concealment. The most perfect development of style must be sought in those whose experience of the world has been full and at the same time in the main joyous and exhilarating. Have we not all of us known people of this kind men and women whose almost invariable manner is the perfect expression of an exquisite indulgence and graciousness of disposition and who exercise at all times a magical influence upon others. Have we not seen them moving about in a crowded room, putting everyone at his ease, delighting everyone, and diffusing an atmosphere of joyousness and friendly sympathy over the whole company, yet remaining themselves perfectly calm, displaying not the slightest appearance of effort or embarrassment. This is the perfection of style as the expression of a certain poetic grace of nature, a happy attitude of mind, impulsive and yet controlled in the person possessing it. In others we notice a certain brusqueness of bearing which is the effect not of embarrassment, but of an inherent angularity of nature; in others whimsical and humorous or oddly deliberate and weighty forms of manner, which are all an unconscious expression of mental attitudes.
The distinction between a genuine style and a pure affectation is immediately noticeable in the bearing of men and women as it is in literature and art. Yet as in every kind of distinction the two things merge into one another so that it is sometimes not easy to ascertain how much of a manner is style, and how much of it is affectation. We often meet with people possessing a manner, undoubtedly to a great extent an expression of character, but heightened and consciously adorned so as to produce an effect of insincerity. It is the same conscious heightening of style which has injured the character for genuineness of many distinguished artists and writers.
There is also another sort of manner very common, perhaps the most common among men and women of the world, which can hardly be called either a style or an affectation. It is that artificial and customary manner which people who have no very decided character of their own adopt in an unconscious spirit of self-defense in order that they may escape embarrassment in their contact with others. It is not a style, for it does not express any personal mental attitude; indeed it does not express anything unless it be the disposition to guard one's own dignity; and it is not an affectation exactly for it is not consciously adopted. Nothing can be more effective in its way than this artificial manner of society. In the hands of a well-practiced person it is an impenetrable shield, and to any straight-forward and simple-minded body who comes in contact with it, is utterly disconcerting. It is a valuable trick which, once learnt, enables a man to assert and maintain his own personal majesty with the least expense of intelligence. In some of the common forms of literature too the same defensive manner is found; in the columns of the newspapers for instance. We know how empty a newspaper editorial may sometimes be, and yet how majestically plausible in expression. In the more serious walks of literature this modus vivendi manner does not so often occur for people are not under the same necessity to write books as they are to associate with their neighbors or even to write newspaper paragraphs.
In fact true style in manners like true style in literature and the arts is exceedingly rare. For it is always in a certain sense the expression of genius. Genius like the varieties of style to which it gives rise is not confined to art or politics, or literature or music. There have been many people with a touch of genius who have never taken any part in politics, having never written anything, or expressed themselves in any of the arts. That woman for instance whose contact with life has resulted in the development of an exquisite manner peculiar to herself, which impresses one with the sense of the presence of something wonderfully gracious and noble; that woman has a touch of genius. We have sometimes met with men whose names have never become widely known to the world, but who possessed an unusual attractiveness of personality, who had the faculty of drawing people to them by reason of their extreme quickness of sympathy. Such men were touched with genius; for genius is simply the quickening of any mental faculty to the point at which it begins to burn, so to speak, to the point at which it begins to find for itself passionate and stirring expression even though only in bearing and mode of life.
A style is liable to the same decay both in manners, literature and art. Its perfection is found in those whose gifts have been exercised freely and without compulsion and have not yet reached the period at which in so many expression has become incessant and too habitual. We know that many people who have acquired a very charming manner after long intercourse with the world get to exercise it, on occasion quite mechanically, although this may be only evident to observers of unusually acute penetration just as some good writers to whom the practice of writing through long habit has become a necessity of life go on producing matter with exactly the old ring, but expressing little that the mind of the reader can apprehend as of any real moment.
It may be said that style, however honestly the peculiar development of the person possessing it, is a hindrance to absolute expression, and a concealment of actual truth. And this is of course true. Every mood of feeling and every attainment of thought may be imagined to be expressible in some absolute way altogether independent of every peculiar bent of the human mind. But he who should be able to give to all movements of the mind their absolute expression would be a genius of more than mortal compass. Some of the masters of art have made approaches to this supreme excellence, but of course have never reached and can never reach it.
One of the great things to be said of Shakespeare is that he expressed many of the human passions, such as love, anger, pity, fear, remorse in a manner which as far as those passions are concerned may be called the Universal style. That is to say he expressed them with such an impressiveness, such a glowing and overwhelming eloquence that nothing can be imagined nearer to the truth. Nevertheless some of the minor poets have carried expression into occult regions of feeling where their own peculiar gifts were better adapted to success than Shakespeare's more rapid hand and larger intelligence.
The formation of a style in fact is almost as necessary to the artist as the implements of his art. It is only by this means that he is enabled to proceed to each new undertaking with confidence and precision. Until he has developed some sealed style of his own he is obliged at every new attempt to grope in a confused and laborious manner for the appropriate form of expression. In the end it happens to every powerful and original artist that that peculiarity of thought or imagination which is uppermost in him obtains an absorbing mastery and gives the tone to his creations, and this tone working itself out through the implements of his art is style.
So in every age of the world's life, that peculiarity of thought or feeling which is uppermost in its aggregate of mind lends to the product of all its artists a broadly perceptible general character upon which the work of each individual is only a variation, the common tone of a picture with which the colour of each separate object is in harmony. In architecture as the art which expresses the mind of each age on the vastest scale, one most easily realizes the great distinctions of style. He who should accompany the traveller from Salisbury Cathedral or the Munster of Strasburg to the old mosque at Cordova, from the Parthenon or the Temple of Apollo at Phigalia to the monstrous ruins of Medinet Habu or Karnak, or to the Taj Mahal by the stream of the Ganges would pass before five great attitudes of the human mind, and be overpowered by each in turn. If we turn to sculpture we find that the secrets of two ages of two civilizations and two almost antagonistic manifestations of mind and feeling inhabit the Aphrodite of Praxiteles, and the Moses of Michel Angelo Greece with its happy sense of the beauty of this earthly life, its mind occupied with subtle and untroubled thought, its life full of joyous energy and modern Europe, half Gothic half Latin with its melancholy, its restless searching after unattainable ideals, its vast imaginings, its passionate subjectivity. When we pass to literature we find the style of the Aphrodite of Praxiteles and the Parthenon translated into the verse of the Oedipus Coloneus and the prose of Plato the style of the Strasburg Punster and the Moses of Buonarroti into the verse of the "Song of Roland" and the prose of the Vita Nuava.
In like manner we know that the lesser divisions in the ages of art are distinguished from one another by minor adaptations of style. If we consider the history of English poetry-and to that I propose to limit myself in the present paper how many and how marked have been the changes in the general habit of expression since the middle of the 16th century. If we should meet anywhere with a passage from any of those great dramatists who wrote under Elizabeth and James, even though it should be new to us and unnamed, would not the very manner of its utterance enable us immediately to refer it to its age? That was preeminently the age of the adventurous activity and sturdy manhood of England an age of rough passions and rough enjoyments of violent contrasts. The culture of the nation, deep and solid as it was among the learned, had not outgrown its rude animal vigor; consequently its art was characterized by immense force and magical tenderness. Such an age as that is the age of the dramatist. The strong ferment of its life is food and school and spur to his imagination. There were many dramatists then, more than there have ever been since. And in all of them however Marlowe for instance may differ in bent of genius from Shakespeare, or Ford from Jonson the same general character of utterance is marked. In a greater or lesser degree they all possessed the same euphuistic richness and boyancy of diction, the same inexhaustible fancy, the same daring magnitude of imagination, the same free and full- blooded sympathy with the movement of a full and strongly contrasted life. Milton also belongs intellectually to this age although he lived at a later time like one of the elder Titan Gods holding to he rocky fastness after all the lower lands about him had fallen under the dominion of deities of a meaner race.
In Shakespeare as we have already observed we sometimes find what may be called a universal style. In him there is no peculiarity, no eccentricity, no marked or special bias of thought or feeling. In his famous passages the method of expression is so spontaneous, so naturally forcible that it seems to be not the utterance of a single brain but the thought of all mankind. When we have read through for instance that most sweet and lofty passage in which King Henry IV apostrophises sleep, what can we say but that it is the very human heart that speaks. Again those terrible lines in which the Duchess of York addresses and describes her son Richard
What other than the universal mind we think could have fitted an evil character with such an array of faithful and fearful words. Shakespeare is the highest development of the common healthy human intelligence, and that is why he is so great, so universally beloved, so full of pleasure and exhilaration for every sound mind.
The one respect in which he deviates from this strong universal type of expression is in the humoring of an extraordinarily fertile fancy. He sometimes loads his phrases with an abundance of curious conceits which on the lips of another man would be the extinction of all force of thought. But even in such cases, so boyant and so vivacious is his movement, so touchingly apt is every part of that riotous flood of illustration that we hardly realize how far he has departed from the bound of actual simplicity. Let us instance that passage of "Richard II" in which the forlorn and vacillating king addresses his followers after their landing in Wales.
No poet perhaps would serve better than Milton as an illustration the manner in which diction or the mode of utterance is moulded by character. Milton was a scholar, serious, able, intellectual, pure. His mental attitude was that of a stern self-trust and a trust equally stern in the justice of the cause with which his life was linked. Every line in "Paradise Lost" bears the touch and impress of that proud, austere and potent nature.
That is what Matthew Arnold calls the grand manner. There is an austere pride in all the movement of the verse. Milton's isolation, his splendid power, his connection with great events and a strenuous cause combined to inure his soul to a severe and majestic attitude, and as we read him, in the very march and halt of his syllables we cannot but be reminded of his greatness.
How great a change do we find when we come to Dryden, Congreve, Pope the sententious age the age of the unvarying rounded verse of neat sentiments, of the confinement of art to the portrayal of certain set artificial situations and the expression of a few set attitudes of mind. It was the age of the reaction, as we know, from the great Puritan rebellion, and the patronage of literature and art was in the hands of the leaders of that reaction, a set of people who wished to envelope everything in an atmosphere of artificial elegance, and to get as far away from the notions of the vulgar as possible. In their style we find a striving after a certain Latin gracefulness and epigrammatic pointedness of expression, and an almost entire absence of the real creative genius of those old Latin writers, who were the after fruit of the great deeds and the heroic mind of the republic. If we instance one specimen of the manner of this age we instance it all. The following lines from an "Epistle to Miss Blount," accompanying a copy of the works of Voiture, are by Pope in whom the wit of that age reached its perfection.
There is something pleasantly trim and natty about these lines. There is nothing in them to touch any emotion or prompt to any intensity of thought there is never anything of that sort in the work of the age of Queen Anne, but nevertheless they are very pleasant reading and have a sort of charm. They are clever, witty, intelligent, perfectly poised, with a certain pointed grace.
Then we come to a transition age-the age of Johnson, Addison, Fielding and Sterne, of Thompson, Grey and Cowper. The pendulum was swinging back. People were wearying of the nick-nack drawing room literature of the Restoration. The old sturdy English seriousness and vitality were beginning to reassert themselves, and perhaps England was already affected by the first faint vibration of that movement of Rousseau and Voltaire which had dawned in France. In the style of these men there was still lingering the well bred sententious manner of the last generation, but there was also another note, indicating a determination toward a genuine criticism of life. They had begun to fasten upon nature as the only source of everything lasting in literature and art. In the prose of this transition age there was a good deal of humanity. It was easy, humourous, appreciative of character and touched with geniality; but lacking in force and without the higher qualities of the imagination.
The vast stir of revolutionary thought and feeling, that terminated the eighteenth century, brought on that great and impressive age, the last before our own, to which we owe so much. It was an age in which some full and im mediate change in the destiny of mankind seemed so near and so possible, the dream of it so alluring that those among men who had anything of the prophetic gift of tongues spoke out in a new and world-inspiring note. Theirs was the prophetic attitude, and in their style was the intonation of a high passionate earnestness and spiritual enthusiasm. Shelley was the representative of the time, and in him the note is strongest, but it is also clearly distinguishable in Byron, Coleridge, Southey and Wordsworth. Keats alone stands separated from his age, like a half-completed palace of the Italian Renaissance, planted in nineteenth century England, absorbed in its own reminiscent dream of beauty and unconscious of all the spiritual fervour and social stir around it.
In Shelley let us repeat we find the representative of this age. In him an intense interest in the prospective moral and political emancipation of mankind had become an absorbing passion, a glowing enthusiasm, in which all the intellectual and imaginative faculties of his mind were fused. He was fortified with an intense confidence in the truth and beauty of his own limitless aspirations, and it was this attitude that lent to every wildest thing that he wrote that tone of burning sincerity and romantic prophesy which is the keynote of his style. The following for example is a passage from "Alastor," purely descriptive but there is a voice in it of something wildly spiritual, the coloring of a certain habitual and irrepressible mood. In a word we find in it Shelley's style.
I should say that Byron's distinctive attitude of mind, when he was at his best, disposed him to a tragic review of the changes and desolations of time, and a sad or scornful contemplation of the crimes, weaknesses and miseries of human life. This was the mood that wrought out his style. It is the mood of the IIIdCanto of "Childe Harold" in which some of his best work was done.
Wordsworth frequently touches the master note of his age. It is found in all the sonnets dedicated to liberty; as for instance in that most noble one on the "Extinction of the Venetian Republic"
Again in that on the subjugation of Switzerland
But the personal and distinctive attitude of Wordsworth's mind was that of a lofty contemplation of external nature, and a reverent interest in all the humble and laborious occupations of life. And this like every true prevailing instinct bred a peculiar manner in his verse, a manner exceedingly plain and simple and yet striking, musical, distinctive.
How very simple and apparently without distinction are these lines yet who with a practiced ear, though hearing them for the first time, could doubt that they were Wordsworth's. The same peculiarity of touch is noticeable in many phrases and passages that readily occur to one.
"Resolution and Independence" sometimes called "The Leech-gatherer" is the most beautiful and original poem that Wordsworth wrote. It is one of those miracles that a true poet will perform in some moment of intellectual awakening and extraordinary imaginative insight, never perhaps repeated in a lifetime. The following stanzas are the most curiously vivid in all Wordsworth's work, and are an excellent illustration of his prevailing attitude of mind, an acute apprehension of the actual picturesque value of the common every day manifestations of life.
In our own age the study of style becomes more interesting than in any other; for individual developments become more common, and any general or common quality of manner is hardly noticeable. The nearest we get to it is the similarity of method in the followers of certain schools. In poetry this is a lyrical and meditative age. The drama is almost impossible. It was the unconscious sympathy with the strong rush of a life in which all were passionately involved that produced the generalities in style noticeable in former ages. In our own, art is self-conscious and self-absorbed. Each individual mind is bent upon realizing and fixing its own mental attitude, and this must naturally result in the formation of many peculiar and dissimilar styles. Another natural result is that our poetry is characterized by great perfection of manner, great force of expression, great subtlety of thought and feeling, but little real movement. A poem like Tennyson's "Revenge" for instance which is so picturesque and so stirring, if we examine into it, we find to have hardly any actual movement. It is after all just a piece of glorious rhetoric. But it is the perfection of style and a splendid expression of a heroic mood.
In the main Tennyson may be said to exemplify the English attitude of mind at its best. His attitude toward the problems of life is that of a brave and kindly common sense, warmed with all the fire and impulse of a most gifted poet. His painting of Nate is less exquisitely happy and natural than Wordsworth's but it is more sumptuous, and the salient points of his picture thrown out with a more splendid touch.
Browning's genius seems to have been actuated by an intense and busy curiosity in regard to the inner working of human emotion, and the effect of imposing situations upon differing characters; this combined with an extraordinary appreciativeness of all kinds of force. A great deal of his verse is utterly wanting in that smoothness and rounded melody to which English ears had become too accustomed in Tennyson easily to endure its absence. Force and the truth of his presentment were what Browning aimed at, and melody had for the most part to be sacrificed. Yet not always even in the longer and subtler poems for sometimes, out of the recklessly broken utterance of a discouraging page, the reader awakes to the power of some individual thought borne in upon him line upon line, a sudden tide of music irresistible and incomparable. In some of his magical short pieces he seems to unfetter the hands of the musician and set free the pure poetic sense in unequalled swing and splendor. Such a poem for instance is "Love among the Ruins". I dare say you all know it.
Browning was, as we have said, an enquirer and prober into the springs of human action, of great penetration, with the painter's sense largely developed and an intense vividness and inventiveness of imagination, but his mind seldom reached those solemn and austere attitudes of feeling from which a few of our greatest lyric poets sang. We do not find in him any single poems or passages to compare with the broadest and weightiest utterances of Milton and Wordsworth or even of Keats, Shelley, Tennyson or Matthew Arnold. If we wish to instance a specimen of Browning's habitual style, we shall have to find it in such a passage as the following from a poem entitled "One Word More" addressed to Mrs. Browning.
The mind of Matthew Arnold more than that of any other writer of these later times was impressed with a sense of the mystery of all life, the tragedy human thought and effort, the power and loveliness of nature this great external world. Over his soul there hung a vast and sceptical melancholy which lends to his utterance a turn and modulation, strangely touching. He is the most modern of poets, and to men of our generation more interesting than any other. The following lines which are the ending of "Sohrab and Rustum" are exceedingly characteristic. Rustum, the aged Persian hero, has met his son Sohrab without knowing him in single combat between the assembled armies of the Tartars and Persians, and has wounded him to death. The armies draw off for the night to their camps by the Oxus and Rustum is left sitting by the corpse of his son on the solitary sands; and then the poet turns from thereto tragic figures and finishes the poem
What a breadth of vision and solemn simplicity of movement there are in these lines; and there are many others in Matthew Arnold quite as fine.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Charles Algernon Swinburne are two poets who have exercised a large influence on the poetic style of the last fifteen or twenty years. They are usually classed together as forming with William Morris what is called the Preraphaelite school, though why nobody seems able satisfactorily to explain. They are writers of an extremely different genius, and nothing could be more different in many respects than their manner of workmanship. Rossetti's attitude is that of a watcher for occult and subtle effects both in human emotions and in external nature, and these he siezes and realizes with a strange searching vividness of imagination.
Swinburne on the other hand may claim more justly than any other English man that has ever lived to be possessed by what in the old phrase was called the poetic frenzy. He is utterly governed and carried away by the surge and glory of a most daring imagination, and the force of an unexampled sense of music. Rossetti's movement is lingering, penetrating and bites into the imagination a most vivid conception of what he wishes to convey. Swinburne's movement is rushing, tumultuous, overpowering the imagination with a tide of chaotic splendor. The following stanzas are an excellent example of Rossetti's far-reaching subtlety, and of the manner in which it has moulded his style. It is entitled
-The Sea Limits-
As an example of Swinburne's power of melody, the following lines, part of a chum the "Atalanta in Calydon," are often cited.
These writers are both of them habituated to a mood so much the result of cultivation and so far removed from the mental habits of the most of men that they are sometimes in danger of straining style till it becomes affectation. It requires a peculiar twist of the imagination to enable one to entirely enter into the feeling of a poem like Rossetti's "Woodspurge", which I have not time to quote here, but which I dare say many of you know.
Amid all these varieties of style one might begin to think that it would be difficult to find anything new, and yet writers are rising into notice every day in whose work there is a voice and touch of something never heard before. The formation of a style is a most unconscious process. He who should set about premeditatedly to form a style would end most certainly in forming nothing but an affectation. But he who finds himself haunted persistently by certain peculiar ideas, certain peculiar images, certain tones of sound, colour and feeling and sets about expressing these simply in the manner most outright and clear and satisfactory to himself, and continues to do so until his hand attains ease and certainty will discover, or rather his readers will discover that he has invented a style.
By way of concluding these re-ordered remarks I would like to call attention to the work of one of our own younger poets, Professor Charles G.D. Roberts of Windsor, N.S., who in the last ten years has done some very fine writing, distinguished by marked peculiarities of style. It is on account of its very characteristic quality in regard to style, that I particularly mention Mr. Roberts in this connection. Mr. Roberts' feeling for nature is that of sensuous physical delight, the rapturous pleasure of contemplation, the joy of intellectual contact with life, and its manifold occupations. Sometimes his imagination, touching upon the very commonest things, invests them with an almost human significance, and there are passages of description in his poems which for genuineness of vision and passionate stress of expression have been rarely, if at all, squalled, certainly in their way not surpassed, in America.
The following lines from "Tantramar Revisited" are, it seems to me, unsurpassably fine.
Archibald Lampman, "Poetic Interpretation," in Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose, ed. Barrie Davies (Ottawa: The Tecumseh Press, 1975), p. 88.[back]
Volume 1, Folder 7, The Lampman Papers, Public Archives of Canada, p. 598.[back]