1805 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Erasmus Darwin

Anna Seward to Richard Polwhele, 18 June 1805; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:565-66.



Monday Evening, June 18.

My friends left me at noon to day. So the Anti-Jacobin Review abuses my volume: I have seen so much praise of vapid compositions, and so much illiberal and ignorant censure of ingenious ones, in reviews and magazines, that I seldom look into any of them; never when they are likely to speak of my writings; because their praise would not teach me to think better of my work, while their more probable censure would vex me. Many of my literary friends know with what cheerfulness I kiss the rod of just criticism; but of obtaining that from hireling censors, experience, respecting their treatment of others more than of myself, has made me hopeless; and injustice, whether extended to myself or to others, is painfully hateful to my feelings.

Of the review in question I have seen little. That little, however, enabled me to perceive it a party composition of most illiberal acrimony; branding with the odious and undeserved title of Jacobin, all whose principles, and they have influenced the senate, had saved Europe from its present humiliation, prevented the deplorable aggrandisement of France, preserved the consequence and prosperity of England, and arrested, on its accumulation, that incalculable mass of homicide and anguish, which the measures they fruitlessly combated were so likely, so certain to produce. This review, not content with such a slanderous opprobrium on genuine patriotism, affected to despise whatever publications contained the slightest tincture of it, however rich in genius and erudition: to look down on them as feeble, or to ridicule them as fustian. Dr. Darwin's avowed dislike of the nine years insane crusade, drew upon him all the malice of the Anti-Jacobin censors. My defence of his principles on that subject, in my Memoirs of his life, makes me not surprised that they load that volume with abuse. With what tasteless invective have they pursued the poetic galaxy, where Coleridge and Southey were the bright and leading stars! The consciousness that from these courtier critics I share the fate of such writers, ought to make me invulnerable on the side of feeling to expected shafts, in whatever venom they may be steeped; but since for those true poets, though unknown to all of them, either personally or by letter, I could not help experiencing painful indignation, I could not hope to escape it when my own writings were attacked; therefore do I avoid the sight or knowledge of criticisms so certainly invidious....