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Marston, Philip Bourke

MARSTON, PHILIP BOURKE (1850-1887), English poet, was born in London on the 13th of August 1850. His father, JOHN WESTLAND MARSTON (1819-1890), of Lincolnshire origin, the friend of Dickens, Macready and Charles Kean, was the author of a series of metrical dramas which held the stage in succession to the ambitious efforts of John Tobin, Talfourd, Bulwer and Sheridan Knowles. His chief plays were The Patrician's Daughter (1841),Strathmore (1849), A Hard Struggle (1858) and Donna Diana (1863). He was looked up to as the upholder of the outworn tradition of the acted poetic drama, but his plays showed little vitality, and Marston's reviews for the Athenaeum, including one of Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon, and his dramatic criticisms embodied in Our Recent Actors (1888) will probably claim a more enduring reputation. His Dramatic and Poetical Works were collected in 1876. The son, Philip Bourke, was born in a literary atmosphere. His sponsors were Philip James Bailey and Dinah Mulock (Mrs Craik). At his father's house near Chalk Farm he met authors and actors of his father's generation, and subsequently the Rossettis, Swinburne, Arthur O'Shaughnessy and Irving. From his earliest years his literary precocity was overshadowed by misfortunes. In his fourth year, in part owing to an accident, his sight began to decay, and he gradually became almost totally blind. His mother died in 1870. Hisjiancte, Mary Nesbit, died in 1871; his closest friend, Oliver Madox Brown, in 1874; his sister Cicely, his amanuensis, in 1878; in 1879 his remaining sister, Eleanor, who was followed to the grave after a brief interval by her husband, the poet O'Shaughnessy, and her two children. In 1882 the death of his chief poetic ally and inspirer, Rossetti, was followed closely by the tragedy of another kindred spirit, the sympathetic pessimist, James Thomson (" B. V."), who was carried dying from his blind friend's rooms, where he had sought refuge from his latest miseries early in June of the same year. It is said that Marston came to dread making new friendships, for fear of evil coming to the recipients of his affection. In the face of such calamities it is not surprising that Marston's verse became more and more sorrowful and melancholy. The idylls of flower-life, such as the early and very beautiful " The Rose and the Wind " were succeeded by dreams of sleep and the repose of death. These qualities and gradations of feeling, reflecting the poet's successive ideals of action and quiescence, are traceable through his three published collections, Songtide (1871), All in All (1875) and Wind Voices (1883). The first and third, containing his best work, went out of print, but Marston's verse was collected in 1892 by Mrs Louise Chandler Moulton, a loyal and devoted friend, and herself a poet. Marston read little else but poetry; and of poetic values, especially of the intenser order, his judgment could not be surpassed in sensitiveness. He was saturated with Rossetti and Swinburne, and his imitative power was remarkable. In his later years he endeavoured to make money by writing short stories in Home Chimes and other American magazines, through the agency of Mrs Chandler Moulton. His popularity in America far exceeded that in his own country. His health showed signs of collapse from 1883; in January 1887 he lost his voice, and suffered intensely from the failure to make himself understood. He died on the 13th of February 1887.

He was commemorated in Dr Gordon Hake's " Blind Boy," and in a fine sonnet by Swinburne, beginning " The days of a man are threescore years and ten." There is an intimate sketch of the blind poet by a friend, Mr Coulson Kernahan, in Sorrow and Song (1894), P- 127- (T. SE.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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