1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dennis

Robert Carruthers, in Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, 3rd ed. (1876; 1879) 3:198.



JOHN DENNIS (1657-1734) was known as "the critic," and some of his critical disquisitions evince an acute but narrow and coarse mind. He had received a learned education, and was well read in ancient and modern literature; but his intolerable vanity, irritable temper — heightened by intemperance — and the want of literary success, seem to have led him into absurdities, and rendered his whole life a scene of warfare. His critiques on Addison's Cato and Pope's Homer are well known. He wrote several plays, for one of which — a tragedy called Appius and Virginia (1708) — he invented a new species of thunder, which was approved of in the theatres. His play was not successful; and some time afterwards being present at the representation of Macbeth, he heard his own thunder made use of, on which he exclaimed: "See how these rascals use me; they will not let my play run, and yet they steal my thunder!" Many other ludicrous stories are told of Dennis, whose self-importance amounted to a disease. Southey has praised Dennis's critical powers; and no doubt vigorous, discriminative passages may be selected from his works. They are, in general, however, heavy and destitute of any fine perception or well-regulated judgment.