1777 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Polwhele

Hannah More ["Miss M."] to Richard Polwhele, 10 October 1777; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 1:71-72.



Oct. 10, 1777.

SIR,

When you did me the favour of writing to me in the spring, I was on the point of setting out for London, from whence I have been returned but a very short time. I would not answer your letter till I had had the satisfaction of perusing the poems you gave me reason to expect I should soon see. I now beg leave to return you my thanks for the entertainment they have afforded me. There is an agreeable vein of imagination runs through them; the numbers are, in general, smooth; and I particularly congratulate you on your success in imitative harmony. This last is a great beauty in skilful hands, but it requires much management, and a peculiar nicety of ear, not to let it be too frequent, or appear too mechanical; by the former it loses its effect, and by the latter its gracefulness.

The truly poetical Mr. Gray is, I will venture to pronounce, your favourite, and you cannot labour upon a finer model; but exquisite as he is — from the grandeur and sublimity of his images, the richness of his fancy, and the melody of his versification, he is frequently obscure, sometimes unintelligible — a fault blameable in any writer, but in a poet unpardonable. In a poem every thing should be easy, natural, and perspicuous; intricacy in books of abstruser literature is to be expected and forgiven, because the subjects may be so difficult, that no familiarity of style can produce a perfect apprehension to a common reader; whereas poetry, whose end is to please, as well as to inform, should, without losing its beautiful and becoming elevation, be stripped of every thing that would obscure its clearness, and hide its perspicuity.

I am, Sir,

Your most obedient and obliged humble servant,

—M.