1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Howitt

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:698-99.



WILLIAM HOWITT, a popular miscellaneous writer, has written some delightful works illustrative of the "calendar of nature." His Book of the Seasons, 1832, presents us with the picturesque and poetic features of the mouths, and all the objects and appearances which each presents in the garden, the field, and the waters. An enthusiastic lover of his subject, Mr. Howitt is remarkable for the fulness and variety of his pictorial sketches, the richness and purity of his fancy, and the occasional force and eloquence of his style. "If I could but arouse in other minds," he says, "that ardent and ever-growing love of the beautiful works of God in the creation, which I feel in myself — if I could but make it in others what it has been to me—

The nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being—

if I could open to any the mental eye which can never be again closed, but which finds more and more clearly revealed before it beauty, wisdom, and peace in the splendours of the heavens, in the majesty of seas and mountains, in the freshness of winds, the ever-changing lights and shadows of fair landscapes, the solitude of heaths, the radiant face of bright lakes, and the solemn depths of woods, then indeed should I rejoice. Oh that I could but touch a thousand bosoms with that melancholy which often visits mine, when I behold little children endeavouring to extract amusement from the very dust, and straws, and pebbles of squalid alleys, shut out from the free and glorious countenance of nature, and think how differently the children of the peasantry are passing the golden hours of childhood; wandering with bare heads and unshod feet, perhaps, but singing a 'childish wordless melody' through vernal lanes, or prying into a thousand sylvan leafy nooks, by the liquid music of running waters, amidst the fragrant heath, or on the flowery lap of the meadow, occupied with winged wonders without end. Oh that I could but baptize every heart with the sympathetic feeling of what the city-pent child is condemned to lose; how blank, and poor, and joyless must he the images which fill its infant bosom to that of the country one, whose mind

Will be a mansion for all lovely forms,
His memory be a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies!

I feel, however, an animating assurance that nature will exert a perpetually-increasing influence, not only as a most fertile source of pure and substantial pleasures — pleasures which, unlike many others, produce, instead of satiety, desire — but also as a great moral agent: and what effects I anticipate from this growing taste may be readily inferred, when I avow it as one of the most fearless articles of my creed, that it is scarcely possible far a man in whom its power is once firmly established to become utterly debased in sentiment or abandoned in principle. His soul may be said to he brought into habitual union with the Author of Nature — 'Haunted for over by the Eternal Mind.'"

Mr. Howitt belongs to the Society of Friends, though he has ceased to wear their peculiar costume. He is a native of Derbyshire, and was for several years in business at Nottingham. A work, the nature of which is indicated by its name, the History of Priestcraft (1834), so recommended him to the Dissenters and reformers of that town, that he was made one of their aldermen. Disliking the bustle of public life, Mr. Howitt retired from Nottingham, and resided for three years at Esher, in Surrey. There he composed his Rural Life in England, a popular and delightful work. In 1838 appeared his Colonisation and Christianity, which led to the formation of the British India Society, and to improvement in the management of our colonies. Mr. Howitt afterwards published The Boys' Country Book, and Visits to Remarkable Places the latter (to which a second series has been added) descriptive of old halls, battle-fields, and the scenes of striking passages in English history and poetry. Mr. and Mrs. Howitt now removed to Germany, and after three years' residence in that country, the former published a work on the Social and Rural Life of Germany, which the natives admitted to be the best account of that country ever written by a foreigner. Our industrious author has also translated a work written expressly for him, The Student-Life of Germany. The attention of Mr. and Mrs. Howitt having been drawn to the Swedish language and literature, they studied it with avidity; and Mrs. Howitt has translated a series of tales by Frederika Bremer, which are characterised by great truth of feeling and description, and by a complete knowledge of human nature. These Swedish tales have been exceedingly popular, and now circulate extensively both in England and America.