1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Chamberlayne

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets 1819; 1845) 202.



I believe the only notice of this poet that is to be found is in Langbaine, who informs us that he was a physician at Shaftesbury, in Dorsetshire, in the reigns of Charles I. and II. He wrote a tragi-comedy, Love's Victory, which was acted after the Restoration under the new title of Wits led by the Nose, or the Poet's Revenge. His Pharonnida, an heroic poem, in five books, which Langbaine says has nothing to recommend it, is one of the most interesting stories that was ever told in verse, and contained so much amusing matter as to be made into a prose novel in the reign of Charles II. What Dr. Johnson said unjustly of Milton's Comus, that it was like gold hid under a rock, may unfortunately be applied with too much propriety to Pharonnida. Never perhaps was so much beautiful design in poetry marred by infelicity of execution: his ruggedness of versification, abrupt transitions, and a style that is at once slovenly and quaint, perpetually interrupted in enjoying the splendid figures and spirited passions of the romantic tablet, and make us catch them only by glimpses. I am well aware that from a story so closely interwoven a few selected passages, while they may be more than sufficient to exemplify the faults, are not enough to discover the full worth of Chamberlayne. His sketches, already imperfect, must appear still more so in the shape of fragments; we must peruse the narrative itself to appreciate the rich breadth and variety of its scenes, and we must perhaps accustom our vision to the thick medium of its uncouth style to enjoy the power and pathos of his characters and situations. Under all the defects of the poem, the reader will then indeed feel its unfinished hints affect the heart and dilate the imagination. From the fate of Chamberlayne a young poet may learn one important lesson, that he who neglects the subsidiary graces of taste has every chance of being neglected by posterity, and that the pride of genius must not prompt him to disdain the study of harmony and of style.