Globe, 18 December 1899, p. 6

The author has had very considerable practice in sonnet-writing, and is a master of the form. Facility like his is, however, usually fatal to the production of much perfect and lasting work. These 163 sonnets (to which have to be added two sonnets “dedicatory” and “prefatory” to Mr. Ruskin) are pleasant reading, but make no permanent impression on the mind.

Dundee Advertiser, 19 December 1899, p. 8

Canon Rawnsley’s “Sonnets in Switzerland and Italy” contain very much that is verbally musical and that appears picturesque. It is a book full of delicious colours, and sounds unfamiliar to British ears, save to those that have hearkened to the aerial melodies of the Alps and the tinkle of cow bells from distant slopes. Therefore these sonnets are charming, and reading them one becomes wishful that winter were over, and that it were possible to rush off to the Col de Jaman and behold what the author saw—what seemed to be the result of a hailstorm whitening all the slopes, but was actually innumerable narcissi. There, too, at the season it is possible to mistake a belt of gentians for a zone of blue sky. Such wonders of colour and scent have inspired some of these sonnets, while the Italian ones glow with sunlight and sunset, or are dim and mystical with the gloom of churches and old world towns. In the Italian subjects it is easy to see how Canon Rawnsley is touched by the historical glamour and the artistic beauties of the country, and his poetry becomes the medium of what may be called a warm academic appreciation of them. But to Switzerland he comes as the jaded traveller, eager to be refreshed by her choice airs and the subtle ministrations of grass and flower and snow-clad peak. He bids the white-blossoming valleys “close me round,” and asks to share “the solace of your mountain solitudes,” drinking “the wine of welcoming.” The scholar’s touch is on every thing in the book, from the dedicatory sonnet to John Ruskin to the few careful little notes at the close.

Glasgow Herald, 20 December 1899, p. 4

Canon Rawnsley has ere this published many sonnets and his present volume contains 163 new ones. He is amongst the best of our living sonneteers. The sonnet is, perhaps, the most difficult form of poetic composition, and uncommonly few have mastered its secret. Milton, Wordsworth, and Keats are masters in the art. If, as a poet, Mr Rawnsley cannot be compared with these, yet—in sonnet-making he never altogether makes a failure. His present examples may be described as of the combined scenic and historic order like his “Sonnets of the English Lakes” and “Round the Coast.” These latter have been rightly admired, and we should be, indeed, surprised if the sonnets referring especially to Switzerland do not take even a higher place in the estimation of sonnet-lovers. Here is an example that should appeal keenly to the historic memory. It is entitled “From the Rigi-Kulm” at sunrise—

His heart was never for a patriot made
        Who—gazing here, when sunrise with a wand
        Smiting the silver peaks of Oberland
Flings on Pilatus Rigi’s purple shade—
Could watch unmoved, to think of those whose aid
        Bequeathed their country faith in Heaven’s com-
        Dared face to face with fearful odds to stand,
And struck for freedom with undaunted blade!

There shines the vale where Winkelried was born,
    There Sempach gleams; here fatefully shot Tell,
        Here at Morgarten stood the Swiss at bay,
    Here by the church ‘Kappel’ Zwingli fell;
        And, as the mists rise up and float away,
The land of heroes brightens to the morn.

Canon Rawnsley dedicated his volume to John Ruskin with a couple of fine sonnets, and in a prefatory note he says that his volume is published “with the hope of inducing a few readers to take their pleasure abroad at the time when the gentian flowers,” adding this hint from Ruskin’s teaching—“That nature has nothing fairer to offer to mind or eye than blossom-tide in Switzerland.” Mr. Rawnsley’s sonnets should have considerable effect in the line of his expressed hope.

Pall Mall Gazette, 18 January 1900, p. 4

A Parodist, a Victim and Two Others.—“The Victim”, of whom we spoke in our title, is Canon Rawnsley. Not that Mr Seaman parodies this impeccable maker of verses. There is nothing to object to in any of the 150 sonnets inspired by one or more Continental tours; all are equally accomplished. But Mr Seaman exactly . . . off our feeling when he makes the Poet Laureate observe:

But Canon Rawnsley, too, shall get
    Full credit for his work upon it
(I never knew a subject yet
    On which he didn’t do a sonnet).

A man who would do a sonnet on Chillon at this time of day would do one on anything; and sure enough here it is—a perfect example of competent mediocrity. If only there were not so many of them—but there are, and that is an end of it.

Western Daily Press, 8 February 1900, p. 3

Canon Rawnsley, after dedicating this book of sonnets “To John Ruskin on his Eighty-first Birthday,” added in his prefatory note—“I have ventured to dedicate the volume to him who taught me, amongst other things, that Nature has nothing fairer to offer to mind or eye than blossom-tide in Switzerland.” The value which appertains to these poems for their own sake is much further enhanced by two sonnets—dedicatory and prefatory—to John Ruskin, the sonnet prefatory being in honour of the completion by Ruskin, in February of last year, of eighty years of life. The “Sonnet Dedicatory,” which was accompanied by “a wreath of gentianella and other Alpine flowers from St. Beatenberg,” will now be read with an interest mingled with sadness:--

You give me much, I little, but I know
        That for poor deed you take the generous will,
        And so I send from off this ‘Blessèd Hill’
The sweetest flowers in Switzerland that grow.
Take them, and let them tell you what I owe,—
        For you it was who taught mine eyes to thrill
        At sight of ‘gentian’ glory, and to fill
My soul with wonders of the Alpine snow.

Still do these lowly stars of azure blue
    Unto that star in Heaven, the great Sun, turn,
        And in his joy their secret selves unfold;
And still your fond disciples turn to you,
    Open their hearts that for your sunshine yearn,
        And seek the smile they learned to love of old.

The restful, refreshing verse in which Canon Rawnsley clothes his interpretation of the beauties of Switzerland will find many delighted readers. They breathe the atmosphere in which the poet himself has revelled, at the same time that he has not failed—as in “The Guide’s Farewell” and “To R. L. Nettleship”—to catch, in the midst of so much natural beauty, the tones that sing of human heroism and human sadness. There are to be gathered in this book some of the finest fruits of a holiday spent with eyes and ears and yet more subtle senses awake to the influences of the sweetest charms this earth has to offer for the highest pleasure of the human family; and at the same time the writer has manifestly sought to consult even a fastidious taste in the matter of verbal form and rhythmic requirement. Those who have been privileged to see Switzerland will enjoy these sonnets for the memories they stir, and all who have not yet had the opportunity to travel so far from Albion’s shores will discover pleasant pictures here photographed for them in words, and, it may be, lay plans for visiting themselves the spots where so much beauty is enshrined. A few special incidents are made the subject of brief reference in an appendix illuminating several of the sonnets.

Birmingham Daily Post, 13 February 1900, p. 8

Canon Rawnsley dedicates his new book of verse to “John Ruskin on his eighty-first birthday.” The book ahs therefore the interest of being probably the last literary tribute laid at Ruskin’s feet by a disciple. Canon Rawnsley has habitually acted on Ruskin’s hint that the proper time to enjoy Switzerland is the season of spring flowers. Long practice has given him a complete mastery of the sonnet form—a form which has the advantage of checking exuberance and compelling condensation. He also exhibits a great command of poetical language; and te 163 sonnets here collected express, always gracefully, and often with much felicity, the sentiments of an eager and cultivated mind, capable of appreciating, not only Swiss flowers and Swiss scenery, but the character, history, and traditions of the Swiss people.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 21 March 1900, p. 3

The mantle of Wordsworth, when it fell, fell to the ground, but Canon Rawnsley has been permitted to touch the hem of it. He of all people, claiming Wordsworth for his master, would desire to be compared with him; yet it is certain—and we hope not to scandalise the disciple in avowing it—that these sonnets have something of the grand sonnet-tone of Wordsworth, and show no little of his passion for the beautiful world of mountain and stream and flower,, and his power to express the passion. There is praise in the admission that of these more than one hundred and sixty sonnets not one is dull, not one but shows good workmanship, and, be it known, a workmanship which reveals love for its calling, and a never-failing regard for its own high purpose. If a sonnet here and there be a mere mechanism, it must be admitted that the most of them claim judgment from the standpoint of poetry. In form Canon Rawnsley adheres to the Italian form throughout, and so closely that the purist will find nothing to offend, unless, indeed, he cling to the stricter variety of a two-rhymed sestet in preference to one of three rhymes. The volume takes us through the glorious scenes of Switzerland and Northern Italy, and Canon Rawnsley sees and hears all the teeming beauty they possess—feels them, too, and speaks them forth again in fitting language, which is the poet’s privilege. There are striking lines everywhere, fine in form and high in thought; not the sensuous, rich lines of Rossetti, rich like sunlight at eventide through coloured flame, but simple and restrained, matching their lofty message with simpler measure. The last line of the sonnet calls for special strength, it is as the tower crowning the church, the outward glory to which all else leads up. Canon Rawnsley knows this, and is specially blest in achieving it almost without exception. We choose the sestet of the sonnet, “At the Trub-See,” almost at random, as an example of the many beautiful things in the volume:--

Then o’er that seething cauldron of the cloud
    High Titlis shone; the hand that guards the pass
        Stood forth like silver, and we clomb up higher:
    Thence gazing, the disconsolate morass
Became a sea of glory, and a crowd
        Of angels moving on soft waves of fire.

London Evening Standard, 2 June 1900, p. 4

The writing of sonnets seems to come as easily to him [HDR] as it came to the men of Shakespeare’s time, who produced sonnet-cycles, three hundred strong, for the amusement of fashionable literary society. Some people convey their passing impressions in letters to their friends—or, less wisely, to Editors of newspapers—and relieve their feelings by lyrics or articles in the magazines. Mr Rawnsley, in such exigencies, composes, and usually, publishes a sonnet. He comments on news of the day in poems of fourteen lines, with five rhymes; he makes passing notes of his holiday tours in the same form. It is a practice which we can only encourage him to continue, for his sonnets are praiseworthy of their kind. Though he can scarcely be placed among the poets in virtue of any imaginative power or passion, or any magic of expression, he is a cultivated writer, with a delicate ear and a graceful sense of beauty. He has just that feeling for the past, and that sympathy with Nature, with Art, and with tradition, that are best conveyed in the metrical form he has adopted. Here is a good expression of his manner:--

 At Como Cathedral

    Pliny’s Statue

Here sits in marble, with his scroll in hand,
        The student-lover of the Larian lake,
        Whom Trajan trusted for his wisdom’s sake;
Who, going governor to the Asian land,
Waited his Lord’s imperial command,
        What steps to stay that heresy he should take,
        Which, in the name of Christ, had dared forsake
The temple courts, and all Jove’s altars banned.

He saw Vesuvius’ ashes blur the sky
    And bury Herculaneum; dreamed not Rome
        Would sink in fiercer fires; nor ever knew
That ‘harmless superstition, doomed to die
    A natural death,’ would to his honouring come,
        With sweet forgiveness for the hand that slew.

The closing lines, it will be seen, are a little weak; and this is often the case with Mr. Rawnsley. It is in the way they end their sonnets that the great poets show themselves.