1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Polwhele

Anna Seward to Richard Polwhele, 19 July 1785; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 1:168-69.



Lichfield, July 19, 1785.

SIR,

I had more immediately expressed a sense of the honour and pleasure I have received in your acceptable present, had I been able to obtain a direction to you.

Instruction and pleasure resulted from my perusal of the "Art of Eloquence;" it is ingenious, learned, and harmonious. I wish I could compliment the times we live in so far as to depend upon its becoming popular; but I have my apprehensions that, like the noblest didactic poem the world ever produced, Mr. Hayley's "Essay on Epic Poetry," it may "prove caviare to the multitude." That as yet Mr. Hayley's Essay should be so little read, is a disgrace to our country. It ought to be in the hands of every being who is capable of receiving delight from the eldest and loveliest of the Muses, since it contains so much that is to the heart; amidst the treasures of information, the wise discriminations of unerring judgment, the brilliant effusions of fancy, and the beautiful harmony of numbers.

Never was there an age so rich in poetic genius as the present. If it has not produced a Shakespear or a Milton, we must impute the deficiency to the fastidiousness of refinement, to the severity of criticism, to their restraints of that wild, yet noble daring, which, hazarding every thing, often rises to the solar heights of sublimity, and often becomes enveloped in the mists of exuberant absurdity.

But amidst the poetic wealth of this era, how utterly insensible of the value of these treasures are the modern multitude! Let not, however, the spirit of rising genius be depressed; but rest assured that, though its efforts may be temporarily quenched by the torpor of the public, they cannot, be extinguished. Let the seventy years oblivion from which the juvenile works of Milton emerged, in the thirty-eighth year of the present century, teach the poet not to rest his hopes of fame on present popularity.

I am, Sir, your obliged humble servant,

ANNA SEWARD.