Glasgow Evening Post, 27 April 1893, p. 7

Consists of some remarkably well-turned verses, with more than a trace pf poetry in their composition.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 19 May 1893, p. 2

The author of this admirable volume, the Vicar of Crosthwaite, Keswick, was an intimate friend of the late Laureate, being amongst those who had the signal honour of pall-bearer when the dead poet was borne through Westminster. Indeed, it was the father of Mr. Rawnsley who performed the ceremony of Tennyson’s marriage; but while this fact alone is sufficient to account for the friendship between the author of “Valete” and the great Laureate, it is interesting to know also that Tennyson had a sincere admiration for the Keswick muse. Nor is that opinion due to mere bias of friendship, for Mr. Rawnsley’s poetic gift has obtained considerable recognition in many quarters, and that very justly. His work is always full of fine feeling, chastened thought, and graceful expression. Hitherto in his “Sonnets at the English Lakes,” and “Sonnets Round the Coast,” Mr Rawnsley has been a worthy representative of the Lake school of Nature-poets. In his Poems, Ballads, and Bucolics he was more general in his themes, and his ballad, “The Village Carpenter,” is marked by moving dramatic pathos. The present volume is entirely memorial of persons, the memory of whom the world will not willingly let die. Of the great title name, Mr Rawnsley has indubitably written well and beautifully in a poem of some thirty-four stanzas, which breathe a fervent admiration for the Laureate’s character, and a sympathetic knowledge of the main burden of his verse.

The moonlight lay with glory on his face
    About whose bed in grief the nation bowed,
    And darkly flew the wild October cloud:
Sobbed the pale morn, and came with faltering pace
    As if it feared to lift a dead man’s shroud;
    And all the streams made lamentation loud.

But such majestic calm was in his look
    As seemed to say, ‘Why weeping o’er me bend,
    Or bid me longer here on earth attend
Whose home is Heaven?’ His hand held Shake-
         speare’s book—
    Shakespeare, so soon to greet him as a friend!
    And so he went companioned, to the end.

                         . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

He was true patriot, and his soul was set
    To give our England flowers of song for weeds.
    He planted well, he scattered fruitful seeds;
He showed us love was more than coronet,
    And in the jarring of a hundred creeds
    Taught life and truth were hid in noble deeds.

Yet most that purest passion for a maid
    And manly love with maiden virtue crowned,
    Availed to keep our social fabric sound;
And loving Arthur well, he well pourtrayed
    That kingliest Arthur of the Table Round,
    Who entered Heaven to heal him of Earth’s wound.

And he has entered Heaven by earth unharmed;
    Years could not blanch a single lock with grey,
    Time could not steal a single bolt away,
Nor blunt the sword wherewith his soul was armed:
    But from this shore, whereon he might not stay,
    His music nevermore shall die away.

Here are some glimpses through a window into the poet’s home:--

And when the birds have sought their ilex home,
    And the magnolia pours its fragrance rare,
    We shall not mount again his turret stair
And hear the strong deep-chested music come,
    While light in hand within his simple chair
    He summoned sound to people all the air,

And set the rafters ringing to the wail
    Of a great nation for its warrior dead,
    The boom of cannon and the mourner’s tread;
Or bade the bugle’s elfin echoes fail,
    The long low lights on castle walls be shed—
    Then shut the book in dream, and bowed his head.

Nor ever after meat when lamps are lit,
    About the shining table drawing nigher,
    Feel the fine soul that flashed forth at desire;
Sharp sallies, rapier-thrusts of genial wit
    That called for friend, and bade the foe retire,
    And filled the hall with laughter, and with fire.

Mr Rawnsley supplies some more interesting reminiscences in the notes at the end of the volume. One could wish that he might give us a series of these in a separate sketch, though one cannot but admire the loyalty which in his reserve he shows to the relict family of the Laureate, by whom a life of Lord Tennyson is now in preparation.

Passing to the other memorial verses, one is impressed by the catholicity of Mr Rawnsley’s bead-roll of royal dead, heroes, leaders, shepherds, singers, and thinkers among men. Names so diverse as Newman and Spurgeon, Kingsley and Bonar, M. Arnold and Whitman, Liddon and Renan, Mozart and Jenny Lind, appear.

Mr Rawnsley’s interest extends to music as a sister art, and his treatment of Mozart is a good example of his sonnet form—a measure which prevails throughout the volume:--

God called whom for too short a time he gave,
        Dust back to dust, snapped string and broke
        the shell,
    And as they bore him towards the tolling bell
Of old St. Marx, no hands were there to wave
Adieu, no mourners but the winds that rave,
    The tears shed for him were the rains that fell,
    But all the hearts that ever felt his spell
Stand bowed to-day beside that pauper grave.

Mozart, thy soul, familiar grown with Death
    Long since, laid willing touch upon the door
        That opened to the land where sorrows cease,
    And leaving here on earth th’ unfinished score
Went onward, singing, with an angel’s breath,
    The requiem music of eternal peace.

Mr Rawnsley’s devotion to the shrine of Tennyson does not prevent him from a loyal admiration for the poet’s contemporary, who, according to a not infrequent estimate, was even a greater poet:--

Browning is dead at Venice! dark and slow
        The gondoliers move silently along,
    Wan Adria’s sea sobs sorrowful among
Drear halls, and pale for grief sits Asolo.
Browning is dead! the voice tolls to and fro
    And hushes all his latest tender song,
    As in an organ when the deep notes throng
To drown the quavering treble’s passionate flow.

Browning is dead! with Florence on his heart
    Writ large; but larger, England underneath—
        The England of his helping; for he knew
    The mind where Freedom is, and, to the death,
For souls in pain who dare the Angel part,
        Onset and victory his brave trumpet blew.

The letter from Browning to Tennyson printed in the notes is worth quoting:--

29 De Vere Gardens, W., August 5, 1889              

    My dear Tennyson,--To-morrow is your birthday—indeed, a memorable one. Let me say I associate myself with the universal pride of our country in your glory, and in its hope that for many and many a year we may have your very self among us—secure that your poetry will be a wonder and delight to all those appointed to come after. An for my own part, let me further say, I have loved you dearly. May God bless you and yours.
    At no moment from first to last of my acquaintance with your works, or friendship with yourself, have I had an other feeling, expressed or kept silent, than this which an opportunity allows me to utter—that I am, and ever shall be, my dear Tennyson, admiringly and affectionately yours,

Robert Browning               

Several of the last sonnets are upon “Friends and Neighbours,” and we have heard, in the course of casual conversations with Keswickians, that the feeling tributes paid by the Vicar’s muse on the death of residenters are warmly appreciated. A concluding hymn gives us a hint of Mr Rawnsley’s capacities for the rare art of hymn-writing. Here is a specimen:--

Let the funeral bell be tolled
    Not too sadly: she is bride—
Bride of Death—but we, who hold
    Our dark vigil here, outside,
Know the Master of the Feast
Has received her for His guest.

Though beside the Bratha’s stream
    In the stream of death we stand,
These dark waters inly seem
    To divide us from the land
Where we all would gathered be,
Happy angel-soul, with thee.

Given noble themes and fitting measures, and you have good poetry. In these days when so much in poetic art runs, as Mr. John Morley says, to mere drapery, it is a satisfaction to find things written about that are worth the vehicle. Mr. Rawnsley’s themes are worthy, and his command of forms is melodious and versatile. Of course this is no magnum opus, and seeing that the author so little lacks in the accomplishment of verse, we are led to wish that he would project some more sustained work. Mr. Ruskin thinks the world has, on the whole, rather too much good poetry. This applies to poetry which is merely good. Of poetry of the very highest we can never have too much. We should be grateful to the author of “Valete”—we shall be more son when he renders less true his own stanza:--

But we are left disconsolate; no lyres
    To sound a people’s glory, soothe its pain,
    No trumpet-call to chivalry again,
No words of subtlest feeling, finest fire
    To keep us still a nation, and no strain
    To bring new knowledge to a wiser reign.

St. James’s Gazette, 5 June 1893, p. 5

A volume of exceedingly dignified and beautiful verse is published by Mr. H. D. Rawnsley under the title of “Valete”. It consists of entirely Memorial Poems: the subject is a funereal one, but Mr. Rawnsley’s volume, when one accepts the subject, is not unworthy of it. First comes an elaborate threnody on the death of Tennyson, to which are attached various Sonnets dealing with incidents and aspects of the poet’s life. The rest of the volume divides itself into Sonnets on Royalties, “Heroes among Men,” “Leaders of Men,” “Shepherds of Men,” “Singers,” “Thinkers,” “Friends and Neighbours.” It will be allowed that this collection of more than a hundred sonnets on one sad theme shows considerable facility in that form of verse. Yet the writer has sufficient art to make even a long reading of these poems possible without long weariness. One feels, however, that this is Mr. Rawnsley’s finished verse; it is excellent in its way, but he is hardly likely to do anything better.

Pall Mall Gazette, 19 June 1893, p. 4

Snatches of Son.—If ever metrical biographies of celebrities come into fashion Mr Rawnsley will rise to fame as a quick and competent compiler of rhymed obituary notices. He has been practicing the art for nearly twenty years, and with sufficient success to win a place in several magazines and journals of repute. It would seem to be as natural to him to sit down and pen a funeral ode or sonnet as it is for the “One Who Knew Him” to throw off at a few hours’ notice the requisite column of reminiscence of the recently dead. Not too much is to be expected of poetry produced under such conditions. It is to the classic dirges of the language as the undertaker’s wreath of immortelles is to the garland of fresh flowers laid lovingly in the tomb by some dear friend or kinsman. A mourner whose sympathies extend from the Poet Laureate down to a chairman of the Liverpool Stock Exchange discounts beforehand his reputation for deep feeling. There are more than one hundred farewell poems collected in the volume, which Mr Rawnsley has styled “Valete”: and nearly all of them smack of the cemetery. He shows himself a conscientious observer of the technical forms of his art, and a fluent producer of lines which were best in place in a gravedigger’s Gradus ad Parnassum. But he is uniformly depressing. Epitaphs are tolerable at intervals, but a volume of them is to the taste of but few among the living. Atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale is the kindest criticism possible of the author of “Valete”.

St. James’s Gazette, 19 September 1893, p. 5

[Valete].—The Rev. H. D. Rawnsley’s Muse is a pensive creature occupied mainly with the contemplation of death and the reflections appropriate thereto. “Valete” is a sort of neatly-kept and lovingly-tended cemetery, in which each tombstone has a poetic epitaph in sonnet form. Most of the silent tenants of this God’s acre bear distinguished names . . . but sometimes we find an obscurer grave, over which the poet has written by no means his least touching words. The lines on “Alice” seem to us as graceful and sincere as anything in the book:--

Her life was as a missal, year by year
         Writ in red letters of self-sacrifice,
    Illumined quaintly for the children’s eyes,
Plain to be read, and musical to hear.
A tale of life so generous, so sincere,
    That angels stooped to listen with surprise,
    And, for such books are scarce in Paradise,
Bade Death go close it—so they brought it there.

Between the golden chapters week by week,
    And ’twixt the lines in ink invisible,
        She, skilled in all the arts, but most in this,
Had penned a language only angels speak,
    And when their fuller sunlight on it fell,
        These words leapt forth in answer—“I am His.”

The “conceit” of the red missal, the invisible ink, and the “fuller sunlight” seems to us very pretty and quaint, and not too ingeniously laboured. But we doubt whether Mr Rawnsley was well advised to collect all his memorial verses in one volume. The effect of reading them is to make one feel at times that they are the work of a professional writer of obituary notices. Yet there is always a certain quiet dignity and refinement about his verse—and these qualities are sufficiently rare nowadays.