Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Critical Introduction by Charles L. Graves
Frederick Locker-Lampson (18211895)
[Frederick Locker, who in 1885 added his wifes name of Lampson to that of Locker, was born in 1821 in Greenwich Hospital, of which his father was then Commissioner. He was successively a clerk in Somerset House and the Admiralty, but retired from the public service in 1850. London Lyrics, his only book of original poems, appeared in 1857, and ten editions were issued in his lifetime. Lyra Elegantiarum, an anthology of light verse, was published in 1867, Patchwork in 1879, the catalogue of his Rowfant Library in 1886, and his autobiography, My Confidences, posthumously in 1896. He died at Rowfant, in Sussex, in 1895.]
THACKERAY, as we have seen, was a singer of many moods. Frederick Locker, like Praed, whom he greatly admired and often imitated, was pre-eminently a writer of vers de société, and he is of importance in this context not only as a composer of many fascinating poems, but as an anthologist (in his Lyra Elegantiarum) and critic. He mingled in the world of fashion, and he knew almost everybody worth knowing in the world of letters. Thackeray invited him to contribute to the Cornhill, and he was an intimate friend of Tennyson. He was a man of fastidious and exquisite taste; he had humour, irony, and tenderness, but he lacked animal spirits, and, though generous in his appreciation of otherswitness his enthusiastic praise of H. S. Leigh and of W. S. Gilbert as far back as 1870was a relentless critic of his own work. His London Lyrics, as originally published in 1857, contained only twenty-six short pieces, but in the ten editions which appeared between that year and 1893 many new poems were added, and many of the older ones withdrawn or revised. But the revision was invariably an improvement; the Cockney rhymes and puns disappeared, redundancies were excised, and the whole gained in terseness, simplicity, and point. In subject-matter he largely resembled Praed, and he tells us that at one time he tried to write like him; but his Praedian poems are the least successfulfaint but graceful echoes of the brilliant antithetical rhetoric of his model. Locker had not gusto, the quality he admired in Suckling; his mood was in his own phrase rueful-sweet, a mood at once whimsical and elegiac. He eschewed parody, but showed remarkable skill in his adaptation from the French, and in his handling of short metres, modelled probably on the seventeenth-century lyrists. A few trite Latin tags appear in his verses; but, unlike Calverley, he deals sparingly in literary allusions; he was neither a Latinist nor a Grecian, but he had a naturally classical mind, fortified by the study of the best English poetry and modern literature, and was eminently a scholarly poet though he made no parade of his learning. He was, in fine, a most accomplished miniaturist; the Cosway of Victorian light-verse writers.