1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ebenezer Elliott

Anonymous, in Review of Elliott, Corn-Law Rhymes; The Athenaeum (11 June 1831) 371.



We are now amused and angry at the bare idea of bringing forward Robert Burns as 'the Ayrshire ploughman': he would have been a prodigy as a king's son. Only two others, who have since fought their way upwards, leave anything of the same impression on the mind, or induce the same entire forgetfulness of difficulties overcome. They are the only representatives of Burns; and who, without exciting derision, could place Allan Cunningham, or James Hogg, on the list of "uneducated poets" — on any other list than of the men who have forgotten more than most of their neighbours ever knew? Brave and brilliant has been th career of the distinguished man first alluded to; and if the course of the latter is less smooth, the cloud rests neither on his genius nor his fame — we lament it should upon his circumstances. To the three names already enumerated, we now add "the Sheffield Mechanic;" and say, in brief phrase, that, from the specimen of his powers now before us, it will be his own fault, and that fault will be perverseness, if he does not win his own place in literature, and keep it. His "Corn Law Rhymes," — a mere twopenny pamphlet, — are conceived in the hottest strain of radicalism, and give us an idea that a revolutionary tribunal and a reign of terror — a avatar of plague, pestilence, and famine — would be considered "quite refreshing." So much for his politics. Of his poetry, we do not scruple to assert, that it contains more bold, vigorous, sculptured, and correct versification, greater grasp of mind, and apposite while daring fancy, than could be distilled from all the volumes of all the prodigies that ever were brought out. The Westminster Review has eulogized Tennyson as the future poet of the day: the Sheffield Mechanic is more decidedly original in his manner; and he writes his own language fifty times better than most of our picked authors, with more power free of pretence, and with more harmony devoid of unmeaning variations. We are not now speaking of his sentiments; — but we give the following from a strangely fierce thing called "the Black-Hole of Calcutta," and say, that it reminds us of Coleridge's "Fire, Famine, and Slaughter."

What for Saxon, Frank, and Hun,
What hath England's bread tax done!
Ask the ruin it hath made,
Ask of bread-tax ruin'd trade;
Ask the struggle and the groan
For the shadow of a bone;
Like a strife of life for life,
Hand to hand, and knife to knife....