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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802–1839)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
WINTHROP MACKWORTH PRAED was born in London, in 1802. His father was an eminent barrister, and the son was sent to Eton at the age of twelve. He remained at Eton till his twentieth year; and while an upper-classman was instrumental, in collaboration with Walter Blunt and Henry Nelson Coleridge, in founding the Etonian, which under his management had more claims to be considered literature than any other undergraduate magazine ever published. From Eton he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. At the university he was the friend of Macaulay and Austin, and was distinguished both for brilliant scholarship and for skill in versification. He took his degree in 1825, and having prepared himself for the law, he was admitted to the bar in 1829. While at the university he was the principal contributor to Knight’s Quarterly, and his verse appeared in periodicals with considerable regularity during his life. He seemed eminently fitted for English political life, and obtained a seat in Parliament in 1830; but unfortunately lost his health from pulmonary troubles, and died in 1839 at the age of thirty-seven.  1
  Shakespeare is not more unmistakably the first dramatist than Praed is the first writer of society verse. It is true that he did not write anything of the flawless accuracy and dainty precision of form of Austin Dobson’s ‘Avis,’ nor anything quite as gay and insouciant as ‘La Marquise’; but Dobson is too much of a littérateur and a lover of eighteenth-century bric-a-brac, to be regarded primarily as a writer of vers de société. The subject-matter of this subdepartment of poetry grows out of the superficial social relations among persons of leisure and culture. In form it should be light and unconsciously graceful, and in tone good-humored and well-bred; its satire not rising much above pleasantry, and its morality kindly rather than righteous. It is more germane to the Celtic than to the Germanic side of our compound national spirit, and has more affinity with the urbane, sententious Horace than with any of the great originals of our national literature; though the frank paganism of the Roman must be tempered with a delicate flavor of chivalric gallantry. The cavalier poets Suckling and Lovelace display in their verse some of the spirit of this genre. Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock’ is too affected and artificial to come precisely into the category. Prior’s charming verses ‘To Chloe’ have the true tone of careless persiflage; but the eighteenth century was as a rule too formal and academic for this dainty exotic. Praed’s verse embodies that good-humored interest in trifles, that necessity of never being insistent or tiresome or officious, that gracious submergement of the personal for the entertainment of others, and the well-bred ease of expression, which is the note of good society. If it be objected that these characteristics, with the exception of the first, are never found in “good society,” it may be answered that they can be found nowhere else, for they make society good. “Good society,” like everything else, has its ideal, by which we define it, as we define Christianity by something which it does not practically reach. This ideal is embodied in the verse of Praed.  2
  Few men have ever been more careless of literary reputation than he, and it was not till after his death that any collection of his verse was made. In fact, no comprehensive edition of his work was published in England till 1864, though several had appeared in the United States. Thirty years ago it would not have been considered good form to cultivate literary notoriety in the modern manner; and Praed was precisely the opposite of what is conveyed in that expressive word of English slang, “cad.” He wrote one poem, ‘The Red Fisherman,’ which for imaginative force, and a certain element of poetic vision, is distinguished from the rest; but ‘Every-day Characters,’ ‘Private Theatricals,’ ‘School and Schoolfellows,’ ‘A Letter of Advice,’ ‘Our Ball,’ ‘My Partner,’ and ‘My Little Cousins,’—and the list might be extended,—are as good of their kind as anything can be. There is the apparent spontaneity, the correspondence between form and sentiment, and the fine workmanship, which are so rare and so satisfying. No one, not even the Brownings, excelled Praed in the easy use of the trochaic or feminine rhyme. His rhymes and even his puns seem inevitable, as if the language had been constructed for that very purpose.  3
  Praed is an artist in light verse: and art is a realization of the excellent; perfection is an absolute matter. The subject of the epic may be weightier than that of light verse, but the beauty of the short verse may be not inferior to the beauty of the great poem, and it is much more easily apprehended. The beauty of the hummingbird is not less than the beauty of the eagle; and besides, the hummingbird is darting about the vines of the porch, and the eagle is on the top of a mountain or up in the clouds, where it is not easy to get at him. Light verse like Praed’s is art; for the function of art is to charm as well as to elevate. When the Muse drops the great questions, and discourses about everyday matters, she does not become the gossip nor the newspaper reporter. She does not lay aside her delicate tact nor her keen vision: her words are still literature; the literature of a class, perhaps, but still aiming at the ideal representation of a mood, and reaching excellence as often as the greater literature of humanity. The heroic, the philosophic, the devotedly Christian are motifs beyond the aim of light verse, but it is not on that account hostile to them. In reaching perfection of form as Praed did, he put light verse in sympathy with nature, which finishes little things; and in so doing is following a great principle, which makes beauty universal, and therefore divine.  4
 
 
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