1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Nathaniel Ingelo

P. M., in Censura Literaria 9 (1809) 335-36.



This work [Bentivolio and Urania] is divided into two parts, of which the first is dedicated to the "Honourable William Brereton, Esq." eldest son of Lord Brereton; and the second to John Earl of Lauderdale. In the preface, the author gives an account of the motives which induced him to undertake a work of this nature. It is much to be lamented that his execution is not equal to the goodness of his intentions.

Perceiving, with regret, how bad the tendency of most works of fiction were in his days, the author's intention was to produce a romance, in which religious and moral instruction should be conveyed in an amusing form. He seems, from some expressions in his preface, to think that he has succeeded in this design. "For my own part," says he, "I do not desire that all books should be as dull as many are, and none composed, as all are not, to delight; but I would have that delight true, and the quickness not evaporate into lightness and vanity. Is there no joy but laughter? Doth nothing recreate but what is fabulous? Such as do not like true happiness, because it is a serious thing, have a reasonable soul bestowed on them in vain, and would have been better pleased if God had made them worse, and more content if God had not designed them to so noble an end."

The work itself is a religious allegory, not much unlike the Pilgrim's Progress, though very inferior to it, but in which the two principal characters, Bentivolio and Urania (i.e. Goodwill and Heavenly-light), are represented as perfect Christian characters. And they travel through the world, being brother and sister, meeting with various adventures, every where reproving vice and recommending virtue and piety. All the places and persons have allegorical names, which are explained in the margin, alluding to their qualities. There is much ingenuity, learning, and goodness in it; but it is so completely dull and uninteresting as a narrative, that it requires dull and uninteresting as a narrative, that it requires no small degree of patience and perseverance to travel through it.