Spasmodic poets

Spasmodic poets

Spasmodic is a term applied by William Edmonstoune Aytoun to a group of British poets of the Victorian era, certainly with some derogatory as well as humorous intention. The epithet itself is attributed, by Thomas Carlyle, to Lord Byron.

Spasmodic poets include, possibly with justice, George Gilfillan, the friend and inspiration of William McGonagall. Gilfillan worked for 30 years on a long poem, but he is best known for his encouragement of the young Spasmodics in his literary reviews written under the pseudonym Apollodorus. Others associated were Sydney Thompson Dobell, Philip James Bailey, John Stanyan Bigg (1826–1865), Alexander Smith, and possibly Gerald Massey.

The term "spasmodic" was also applied by contemporary reviewers to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Aurora Leigh", Tennyson's "Maud", and the poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough. These poets are not generally included in the Spasmodic school by modern literary critics. Spasmodic poetry was extremely popular from the late-1840s through the 1850s when it abruptly fell out of fashion. Aytoun's parodic "Firmilian: A Spasmodic Tragedy" (1854) is credited with getting the verse of the Spasmodic school laughed down as bombast.

Spasmodic poetry frequently took the form of verse drama, the protagonist of which was often a poet. It was characterized by a number of features including lengthy introspective soliloquies by the protagonist, which led to the charge that the poetry was egotistical.

External links

* [ Gerald Massey's essay, 'The Spasmodists', published in the North British Review, February 1858]

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