H.D. Traill

Parody of “Poor Matthias” in The World.

In a letter, Arnold writes of having read a parody of his elegy to his canary, Matthias, in The World. “I wonder,” he writes in the letter, “if it is that demon Traill.” However, Arnold ultimately says that he read the parody “with pleasure.” The poem is re-printed in Traill’s Letters. According to Tinker and Lowry, in The Poetry of Matthew Arnold: A Commentary (1950), the parody refers “of course to the monotonous tone of the elegiac verse which marks the close of Arnold’s poetic career” (314). The full text follows:

Poor Matthias! many a year
Has flown since first upon our ear
Fell that sweetly-doleful song
With its ancient tale of wrong.
Now those curls, were wont to stray
O’er that brow so gravely gay,
Thin have grown and streaked with gray,
And the crow’s cross tracery
Mars that eye’s lucidity.
But the burden never falters,
But the chorus never alters;
Those smooth periods no more vary
Than the song of your canary.
Won’t you give us something new?
That we know as well as you.

(reprinted in Tinker & Lowry’s The Poetry of Matthew Arnold: A Commentary 314-315)

Traill's parody, however, does go beyond the monotonous tone of the verse. Triall begins by making the direct connection between the canary of Arnold's original poem's name, Matthias, with Matthew Arnold himself. Traill, then, is not so much parodying the poem as he is parodying Arnold. Traill's attack makes use, additionally, of the cultural relevance of animals, particularly birds, in Victorian literature. As Martin Danahay asserts in an essay within Victorian Animal Dreams (edited by Danahay and Deborah Denenholz Morse), canaries are the least powerful animal.

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Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold
A rare photograph of Arnold smiling