1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Sotheby

E. R., "An Essay on Sotheby's Poetry" Living Poets of England: Specimens of the Living British Poets (1827) 1:523-24.



WILLIAM SOTHEBY, Esq. F.R.S, F.A.S. is a gentleman of considerable fortune and of a liberal education, which he has improved by taste and diligence. He formerly resided at Bath, where his first publication was printed in a very splendid style. The country seat of Mr. Sotheby is London Lodge in the county of Surrey, and the gardens are laid out in a very beautiful manner. Mr. Sotheby has deservedly the character of a poet and of a refined scholar. He is known principally by his imitation of Wieland's Oberon by far superior to the German poem and by a translation of Virgil's Georgics which would be the best in any language, had not Delille translated it with an equal elegance. There is perhaps in Mr. Sotheby's translation as in the French one a tendency to the Darwinian mannerism.

As an original writer, Mr. Sotheby has written several tragedies, a mask and a scriptural poem, Saul: the name of the poem is Saul; but the hero is David; and it contains just so much of his history as is comprehended within the period of his first appearance as a harpist before the king, and the death of that monarch. In accommodating this story to poetry, Mr. Sotheby has run into two opposite excesses: he has in many places adhered to the narrative, and to the very words of the scripture so closely, as to injure both the dignity and the interest of his composition; while, on other occasions, he has departed too widely from his original, and has used a much greater license both in suppressing and in interpolating, than we can easily pardon in the ease of a narrative so familiar. The work, after all, however, is the work of a poet; or at least of one who possesses poetical taste and feeling. There is a delicacy and grace in many of the descriptions; a sustained tone of gentleness and piety in the sentiments; and an elaborate beauty in the diction, which frequently makes amends for the want of force and originality. — The first book opens with a long account of the symptoms of Saul's being possessed with the evil spirit. Mr. Sotheby's theory of the case, though it derives no support from the scripture history, is poetical and ingenious. He supposes the unhappy king to be haunted by a spectre, which successively assumes his own form and character, as he was in the days of his shepherd innocence or aspiring youth, and tortures him with the afflicting contrast of those happy times, before he had tasted the cares of royalty, or known the pangs of remorse, for his disobedience of the divine commandment.