1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Harrison Ainsworth

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:629.



MR. W. HARRISON AINSWORTH has written several picturesque romances, partly founded on English history and manners. His Rookwood, 1834, is a very animated narrative, in which the adventures of Turpin the highwayman are graphically related, and some of the vulgar superstitions of the last century coloured with the lights of genius. In the interest and rapidity of his scenes and adventures, Mr. Ainsworth evinced a dramatic power and art, but no originality or felicity of humour or character. His second romance, Crichton, 1836, is founded on the marvellous history of the Scottish cavalier, but is scarcely equal to the first. He has since written Jack Sheppard, a sort of Newgate romance, The Tower of London, Guy Fawkes, Old St. Pauls, and Windsor Castle. There are rich, copious, and brilliant descriptions in some of these works, but their tendency is at least doubtful. To portray scenes of low successful villany, and to paint ghastly and hideous details of human suffering, can be no elevating task for a man of genius, nor one likely to promote among novel readers a healthy tone of moral feeling or sentiment.