Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
Critical Introduction by Edmund W. Gosse
Arthur William Edgar OShaughnessy (18441881)
[Arthur William Edgar OShaughnessy was born on the 14th of March, 1844. He was an ichthyologist by profession, and his entire life, from boyhood to the day of his death, was passed in the service of the British Museum. He died, after a very short illness, from the effects of a neglected cold, on the 30th of January, 1881. He published during his lifetime three volumes of verse, An Epic of Women, 1870; Lays of France, 1872; Music and Moonlight, 1874. His posthumous volume, Songs of a Worker, appeared in 1881.]
THE SAME month that saw OShaughnessys death deprived English literature of one of its most vigorous representatives, a woman who had no less ambition than he had to excel in verse. In the chorus of praise and regret which followed George Eliot to the grave, OShaughnessy passed away almost unperceived. As far as intellect is concerned he had no claim to be mentioned near her. But in poetry the battle is not always to the strong, and he seems to have possessed, what we all confess that she lacked, the indescribable quality which gives the smallest warbler admission to that forkèd hill from which Bacon and Hobbes are excluded. In OShaughnessy this quality was thin, and soon exhausted. His earliest book had most of it; his posthumous book, which ought never to have been published, had none of it. It was volatile, and evaporated with the passage of youth. But when his work has been thoroughly sifted, there will be found to remain a small residuum of exquisite poetry, full of odour and melody, all in one key, and essentially unlike the verse of anyone else. I have ventured to indicate as the central feature of this poetry its habit of etherealising human feeling, and of looking upon mundane emotion as the broken echo of a subtle and supernatural passion. This is what seems to make OShaughnessys best pieces, such as The Fountain of Tears, Barcarolle, There is an Earthly Glimmer in the Tomb, Song of Betrothal, Outcry, and even, as the reverse of the medal, the were-wolf ballad of Bisclaveret, so delicate and unique. We have nothing else quite like them in English; the Germans had a kindred product in the songs of Novalis.