1847 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Johns

Cyrus Redding, in "Reminiscences of Thomas Campbell" New Monthly Magazine 79 (January 1847) 56-57.



There was a clergyman, too, in Devonshire, who contributed some very superior poetry to the early numbers [of the New Monthly Magazine]. Few and far between, as all literary persons well know, are contributions of the slightest value received from the country. It was from large towns alone and from amidst large communities of men that good literary articles were obtained; thus the same rule that applies to public spirit, to liberality of feeling and enlarged ideas upon all other subjects, applies equally to the products of the intellect. The poetry alluded to was very beautiful; the writer was the Rev. Mr. Johns, of Crediton. One day that I had gone to take coffee with Campbell at his own house, Mrs. Campbell put into my hand a letter which her husband had that day received, and bade her keep for me, as it belonged to the magazine. Handing it over, she remarked what a neat hand it was, and that it was poetry. "Read the verses," said Campbell, "let us hear what they are about." I read on until a stanza occurred, in which after the allusion to a storm, the returned tranquility of the ocean was thus described:—

—Morn, evening came; the sunset smiled,
The calm sea sought in gold the shore,
As though it ne'er had man beguiled
Or never would beguile him more.

"Beautiful," said the poet, "beautiful indeed! Read it again — that is poetry!" He would hear no more though three other stanzas followed. It was as if he feared they would obliterate the passage which so struck his fancy. He then read the stanza twice himself aloud, then repeated the two last lines twice or thrice, getting the stanza in a minute or two by heart. "That is fine, indeed, we won't mind the rest. That is enough — I have not heard such lines for a long time.

As though it ne'er had man beguiled
Or never would beguile him more.

Can any thing be more faultlessly descriptive of such a calm!" said Campbell, turning to his wife, who, though proud of her husband's fame, I never heard express any literary opinion, nor do I think she pretended to any judgment on such subjects. She thought those her husband's affair, and that to be one of the best, kindest, and most considerate of wives, with as few foibles as any of her sex, for she had some, was the due limit of her province.

The stanzas were called The Maid of Orkney. I never knew the poet exhibit before or afterwards such enthusiastic admiration. He was in general reserved in his opinions, and sparing in his praises in such cases, even when he approved.