1727 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Ralph

Matthew Concanen?, in The British Journal (24 June 1727).



SIR,

The first Fruits of the finest Genius, if obscure and unprotected, are too often so entirely disregarded, that surrounded by the Wants which even Homer suffer'd, and disappointed in his Expectations, he resigns his Hopes of Fame and Immortality, for the Cares and necessary Attendants of a miserable Life. Indeed, when Authors entertain the Publick, who, in the establish'd Judgment of the World, are confessed the Ornaments of Learning, we are ready enough to applaud every Thought and Sentence; but with what Severity and Ill-Nature do we examine the first Productions of an obscure and juvenile Writer? And how unwilling are we to acknowledge the Beauties of a first Piece, for Fear of having our own Judgments called in Question!

Since this therefore is Matter of Fact, and many a true Genius has been lost to the World for want of a necessary Encouragement; the Endeavour to redeem his Excellencies in so plain and equitable a Light, that all Men may distinguish and acknowledge them, will be a generous and humane Office, and what ought to be confess'd a general Advantage. Consequently, I don't in the least imagine but that you, who are an impartial Friend to Merit, will immediately communicate these Speculations to the Publick; and that such of your Readers, who are Admirers of Poetry, will act accordingly. — What I have now writ was occasion'd by reading The TEMPEST, a Poem lately publish'd; which has at once a Vein of Poetry, good Sense, and Morality running thro' the whole. But as 'tis probable its Beauties are already sufficiently known, I shall proceed to mention the Author's Design of publishing in one Volume (together with That) some other Poems by Subscription, particularly NIGHT, two Canto's of SPENCER'S FAIRY QUEEN, FREEDOM, The VISION, &c. Now, the first of these being divided into four Books, I shall transcribe some Lines from each, as a genuine Specimen of the rest: For even those will so justly dispute for Pre-eminence with these, that I know not which to prefer.

In the FIRST BOOK.

When, from the Steep of Heav'n's aetherial Arch,
The Sun's red Orb descending rolls the Day,
All-shadowing Night, dun-rising o'er the East,
Begins her silent Course, and slowly drives
Her gloomy Car along the dark'ning Skies,
'Till, downward far beneath the Earth's green Verge,
The last retreating Beams of Light are fled:
Then, with a loosen'd Rein her rapid Steeds
In hast ascend and all the Landscape's lost
At once beneath her wide-extended Veil;
Then half the Mountains of the dreary Globe,
Involv'd with Shades, and black-brow'd Darkness mourn,
In pond'rous Clouds hang heavy on her Wheels.

But when the Northern Blast has clear'd the Air,
And wastful Tempests slumber on the Deep,
Bright Vesper leads her peaceful Wain, and rolls
His radiant Circlet up the starry Vault,
Or, o'er th' illumin'd Earth, the friendly Moon
Streams down her grateful Rays, and shines the Queen of Heav'n.

Mean while revolving Time, with restless Toil,
Thro' all the Seasons turns the circling Year,
And varies ev'ry Scene with gradual Change.
First youthful Spring begins the wond'rous Round,
With all the Loves and Graces in his Train,
And, rising glorious o'er the heav'nly Blue,
Brightens the Day, and from his dewy Wings
Distills soft Pleasures on the blooming World,
Wakes the young Flow'rs to chear the gladsome Green,
And tunes the Sylvan Choirs to Songs of Joy:
Or, when still Evening o'er the Sky returns,
And in their radiant Orbs, the twinkling Stars
Prepare their Circuits, and exert their Rays;
His kindly Warmth exhales a thousand Sweets,
And wafts the blended Odour thro' the Air.
Charm'd with the spicy Gale grim Darkness smiles,
And Night enchanted loiters in the Sky;
While brooding Joys attend her sable Throne,
And add unnumber'd Beauties to her Reign.

In the SECOND.

Now Darkness o'er th' aethereal Concave reigns,
And drives the Twilight's dusky Gleam away,
While, dim, the sapphire Moon full orb'd ascends,
And Wheels her Chariot thro' the misty Air,
'Till mounted high, she rides illustrious on,
And gilds remoter Worlds: the lightsom Earth
Illumin'd with her Beams in secret smiles,
And ev'ry Mountain sheds a Glory down:
The waving Woods nod shadowy o'er the Green,
And christal Streams reflect her silver Rays[....]

In the THIRD.

Nor Albion's fertile Glebe can only boast
An o'er-abounding Crop of golden Grain;
For, round huge Aetna's ever-bursting Height,
Returning Harvest's burthen all the Plains,
And wave luxuriant to the buxom Gale.
—But haply there, while Midnight glooms the World,
And ev'ry weary Soul is lost in Sleep,
Loud inbred Thunder thro' the Mountain rolls,
And to the Centre all the Island shakes:
Sulphureous Flames involv'd with cloudy Smoke,
Ascending furious, redden o'er the Skies,
And cast a horrid Splendour on the Deep [....]

In the FOURTH.

Now horrid Night arising shadowy Glooms
The Northern Skies, and, o'er sad Greenland's Coast
For half the Year, continual Darkness spreads:
No friendly Dawn the dreary Landscape knows,
Nor print of human Feet, but sable Clouds,
In black-brow'd Volumes, hang for ever round;
And Beasts of Rapine, with incessant Yell,
Haunt the dread Circuit of the hideous void [....]

Thus having enterain'd your Readers with this Specimen of a truly sublime and admirable Poem, where NIGHT is consider'd thro' every Season in all its Beauties and in all its Horrors; where the Scene is the whole World, where Nature is the Subject, and Poetry is the Painter; where all is uniform, and coloured in the most lively Manner: Surely there are none who have any Taste for this kind of Writing, or common Generosity of Soul, that will deny a proper Encouragement to so promising an Author.

I am, SIR,

Yours, &c.