1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hyslop

Robert Morehead, in "Specimens of Scottish Poetry" Edinburgh Magazine NS 5 (December 1819) 536-37.



In our Number for last October, we presented our readers with some little specimens of Scottish poetry, composed by a young man, who, in an inferior rank of life, had been indebted to his own exertions for attainments of no common order. They seemed to us indicative of an elegant genius; but we did not publish them with a view of encouraging their author to make poetry his vocation. We have received two other little pieces which he has written since, one of them in the same strain of love and tenderness, — and the other an essay in humorous description, which we do not think unsuccessful, though, no doubt, sufficiently low. We shall give both of them a place in our pages, but again repeat, that we have no wish to excite this ingenious and ingenuous youth to pursue a trade which is in most cases to unprofitable, and success in which is so uncertain. It is difficult and somewhat cruel to check a poetical vein; nor will it do to say to a young poet, that there is no harm in his writing for his own amusement, but that it is idle for him to seek for public applause. No person yet ever had pleasure in his own verses, without fancying them such as might be generally admired, and hence we find, that most writers of poetry end in publishing.

It may be enough, however, to mention, that, at present, the candidates for this species of distinction are so numerous, and many of them so eminent, that, without a very uncommon bent of genius, it is more prudent not to enter into competition with them. A volume of middling or unpopular poetry lowers the reputation of the most acknowledged talents, — and there is often a great waste of time and ability in this seducing employment, which might be turned to much more advantageous and not less elevated ends. The success of Scottish poetry, in particular, must, at the best be very limited, and confined within but a narrow circle. Burns is an exception, — perhaps Hogg, — but the very circumstance of their eminence, while it has prompted many to follow in their track, prevents in general the pretensions of these from being so much as noticed. A great many volumes of Scotch poems, from writers in almost every condition and profession of humble life, have lately come into our hands, and we have it in view, on some occasion, to give a sketch of their merits. There are glimpses of poetry in almost every one of them, — but, it is quite evident, that none of them are destined to live, and we are unwilling that their number should be increased by any one who is capable of better things.