1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Ross

David Irving, in Lives of the Scottish Poets (1804) 2:347-49.



His songs are not devoid of merit: but his literary character is chiefly to be estimated from an examination of his Fortunate Shepherdess; a pastoral tale extending to about one hundred and thirty pages. The story is conducted with very little judgment; but many of the incidents and descriptions are impresent with the genuine beauties of nature. The general effect is not of the most pleasing kind; the final separation of the two lovers, and the transference of Helenore to a more wealthy suitor, cannot fail of leaving on the mind a very disagreeable impression. Nor will it be admitted as a sufficient apology for the plan, that such representations are strictly conformable to real life: in fields of poetry we are not satisfied with a humiliating repetition of sad realities.

The manners of the poem are neither ancient nor modern, but an incongruous mixture of both. After having taught us to expect a delineation of ancient simplicity, Ross scruples not to introduce such descriptive strokes as the following:

And now the priest to join the pair is come,

But first is welcom'd with — a glass of rum.

Incongruity is his chief and indeed his almost perpetual fault. The very names of his characters, and of the places where he lays the scenes of his different incidents, are highly exceptionable. His happiest thoughts are disfigured by the affectation of a kind of smart and burlesque phraseology.

That such errors should have been committed by a professional scholar, may be considered as somewhat surprizing. Ross's pastoral tale is however one of those productions which will always continue to delight a numerous class of readers. The celebrated Dr Blacklock, as I have learnt from one of his pupils, regarded it as equal to the pastoral comedy of Ramsay.