Saturday, December 14, 2019

184. The Toys. Coventry Patmore Poem. Appreciation By P S Remesh Chandran

The Toys. Coventry Patmore Poem Appreciation

P. S. Remesh Chandran

Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum

00. Article Title Image By . Graphics: Adobe SP.

=Coventry Patmore was a British poet and essayist who had a deep concern for religion. Through his poems, he reacted to the spiritual degeneration of his times. His essays and articles were mostly criticism. His poem Toys pictures the sorrows of childhood and the fatherly relationship of God to man. Just like a father punishes a child, God too can punish a man for his wrong doings but He forgives. It’s the message in the poem for fathers who punish children.

Naturally a child assumes the role of a grown up man to fill the gap of not being there a fatherly care.

01. Portrait of Coventry Patmore By John Singer Sargent.

=The poet's motherless child spoke and behaved like grown-up people, which the poet disliked. Children should behave like children, not like grown up people. But is it possible for children now not to behave like adults, especially after communication technology has advanced much and knowledge is now at everyone’s fingertips, and everyone is now becoming much mature? But a century before there was not this communication technology and no knowledge at everyone’s fingertips. So why should a child behave like an adult then? It was because there was a gap of fatherly care in his life in his mother’s absence and naturally the child assumed the role of the grown up man to fill that gap.

A domestic situation which opens innumerable doors for child psychologists!

=For disobeying him for the seventh time in one day, the poet beat him and sent him to bed without the usual kisses. He ought to have been more tolerant towards the motherless child. Fearing grief should hinder the child's sleep he visited his bed to find him in deep slumber. His darkened eyelids and wet eye lashes were proof he had been sobbing for a long time. The poet felt remorse for his act of unkindness. He kissed away his son's tears while he himself wept, for he could see what gave comfort to the child in his grief, in his place. They were his toys arranged neatly on a table beside his bed. They were simple but enough to comfort a grieving child- ‘a box of counters, a red-veined stone, a piece of glass abraded by the beach, six or seven shells, a bottle with blue bells and two French copper coins’. Where the child longed for the caressing of his father, he bridged the gap and found solace by caressing his toys! True, his toys would not beat him and send him away lonely to bed.  

The reader at this part of the poem would immediately think how great must have been the child’s lonely grief and how much he must have wept. He must have just reversed the role of father and child, assumed the role of father and caressed and soothed the toys to sleep as would have wished his father to have caressed him to sleep- a domestic situation which opens innumerable doors for child psychologists! True, it is a reflection of everyone's childhood. One will wonder why the modern day so-called poets can't create poetry of such pure emotions.

God does not punish man for his multitude of wrongs. He forgives.

Just as the poet punishes the child for his puny little misdoings, God can certainly punish the poet for his multitude of wrongs but He does not do it. He forgives instead. That is the fatherly attitude of God to man. Once he has wept as a child, for his child, God's tenderness and kindness dawns on his mind. The poet repents that he had never been as good a father to his child as God has been to him. Man has been moulded by God from the clay; in his own image. Even then man has not understood the goodness of God. When man at last lies with trancèd breath in his death bed not troubling God anymore, He still does not wish to punish him. Such good is God. So when that night the poet wept and prayed, he prayed God to leave aside His anger and forgive him for his childishness and his unkindness to his child.

It is when a child reaches his mother that he is the most soothed and consoled.

02. Coventry Patmore in 1891 By Herbert Rose Barraud.

What would be the grievous thoughts passing through the mind of a motherless child? Can a father understand them? Or can anyone understand them for a fact? It is believed that a mother is the only person in the world who is never jealous of the achievements of her children. Not even the father could be that un-jealous. It is when he reaches his mother that a child is the most soothed and consoled. It is like life consoled when it finally reaches the fountain of its origin. The mother and child relationship is incomparable. It’s unique in the world.

What is the effect of a mother’s punishment? Suppose a mother beats a child and sends him away. The child is now cross with its mother and goes to sleep with its father. In his sleep he is carried to his mother. When he awakes, he is lying in deep embrace of his mother and remembers nothing about being cross with his mother ever. Such is the sentiments of children. They forgive easily like God. That is why we say children are the representatives of god in this world, and mothers.

In the cource of the appreciation of this poem we even doubted if the poet was becoming and behaving like the Duke in Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess. No, it is not. He well understands how a motherless child feels, especially when neglected or punished by its father. The poem is the proof. So he must have remarried every time to provide a mother for his children.

Beating a child is better than scolding him and comparing him with another.

What is the difference in the effect between beating a child and scolding him? Remember what one of the greatest scholars in England, Dr. Johnson, told about beating children which he considered was very good compared to scolding them instead. ‘The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself’, he said. It means, when the rod is taken away, the effect it produced also ends there. But when you scold a child instead, you usually compare him with another and create long-lasting ugly effects. You actually compare him with his brother or sister and ‘make brothers and sisters hate each other’ in the long run. That was why Johnson said beating a child was better than scolding him and comparing him with another one.


The dilemma of selecting between poetry, art and science.

Coventry Patmore, or Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore in full, 1823-1896, was born at Woodford in Essex, England. He inherited his literary talents from his father, author Peter George Patmore. He had exceptional artistic talents. He also was a science enthusiast. He was schooled at home and later in France. He was always in a dilemma of pursuing poetry, art or science. Each equally won- poetry a little better. His critical essays also were held in high esteem in his times.

The son follows in the footsteps of the father.

Peter George Patmore was a British writer who was a friend of William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb. He was also a government servant. He was the editor of the New Monthly Magazine for 12 years from 1841 to 1853. He also contributed to such periodicals as the Liberal Review, the Westminster Review, the Retrospective Review, the Blackwood's Magazine, the London Magazine and the Monthly Magazine. The noted among his books include Imitations Of Celebrated Authors 1826, The Mirror Of The Months 1826, Cabinet Of Gems 1837, The Court Of Queen Victoria 1844, The Romance Of A Week 1844, My Friends And Acquaintance 1854, and Marriage In May Fair 1854 in the order of their publishing, not writing. A few among these were published posthumously. He also published a series of articles on old paintings titled Picture Galleries Of England. No wonder his eldest son inherited not only literary talents but artistic talents also from him. His wife, and Coventry Patmore’s mother, was Eliza Robertson. He died in Hampstead in 1855 at the age of 69.

British Museum assistant, poet and family man.

=In 1846 Coventry Patmore joined the services of the British Museum as a Printed Books Assistant and continued there for nineteen years during which time he wrote many poems also. In 1847 he married Emily Augusta Andrews and they had had two sons and three daughters. In 1862 his wife of 15 years Emily died and in 1865 he married his second wife Marianne Byles. (We will wonder why his wives die after exactly fifteen years and look up Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess to read). In 1880 Marianne died and in 1881 he married his children's governess Harriet Robson.

The unparalleled The Angel In The House and other works.

 03. Coventry Patmore Lived Here 1858-1860 at 85, Fortis Green, London By Spudgun67.

=In 1844 he published a small poetical collection which was a failure. After eleven years, in 1853, this collection was re-edited and elaborated and published as Tamerton Church Tower which gained him the friendship of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The next year, in 1854, the most memorable and acclaimed of his poems came out- the first section of a long lyrical poem in multiple parts, The Angel In The House. The other three sections followed as The Betrothed And The Espousals in 1856, Faithful For Ever in 1860 and The Victories Of Love in 1862. Together The Angel In The House serves as his classical work, considered since then as the ideal of Victorian femininity and happy marriage. (This work shall not be confused with the autobiographical essay by Virginia Wolfe, The Angel In The House, which proclaims women’s rights).

By 1879 he had become more a critic than a poet.

=In his early writings happy love and marriage was the main theme which was replaced by the grief of loss theme in later years. The finest of his poems were published as The Unknown Eros in 1878. By 1879 he had become more a critic than a poet. Subsequently, his Principles In Art came out in 1889 and Religio Poetae (Principles Of Poetry) in 1893. ‘Courage In Politics And Other Essays’ containing his critical essays till last since then came out posthumously in 1921. He died in 1896 at the famous salt-producing port village of Lymington in Hampshire, one of the finest places in England, where he had moved to spend his last days.

(Prepared as a lecture to undergraduate literature students in September 1995)
First published on: 14 December 2019

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

British Poets, Beating Scolding Comparing, Child Psychology, Coventry Patmore, Domestic Situations, Dr Johnson, Fatherly Care, God Forgives, Grief, Punishing Motherless Child, Soothe Console, Toys,

About the Author P. S. Remesh Chandran:

04. Author Profile Of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives.

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of Swan: The Intelligent Picture Book. Born and brought up in the beautiful village of Nanniyode in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Trivandrum, in Kerala. Father British Council trained English teacher and Mother University educated. Matriculation with distinction and Pre Degree Studies in Science with National Merit Scholarship. Discontinued Diploma studies in Electronics and entered politics. Unmarried and single.

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Post: P. S. Remesh Chandran, Editor, Sahyadri Books, Trivandrum, Padmalayam, Nanniyode, Pacha Post, Trivandrum- 695562, Kerala State, South India.

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