1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Phineas Fletcher

Anonymous, in Retrospective Review 2 (1820) 341-42.



The title of The Purple Island is most attractive and most fallacious. If a reader should take it up, (as would probably be the case with those who are ignorant of its nature) with the expectation of finding some delightful story of romantic fiction, what must be his disappointment to plunge at once into an anatomical lecture in verse on the human frame — to find that the poet had turned topographer of an island founded upon human bones, with veins for its thousand small brooks, and arteries for its larger streams; and that the mountains and valleys with which it is diversified are neither more nor less than the inequalities and undulations of this microcosm? He might perhaps persevere, through the whole of the second canto, in the continued hope that it would soon be over; but when he had achieved this task, and found that he had only made one quarter of the survey, he must of necessity be constrained to lay it down in despair.

This is not the case with us — we are in the habit of encountering such difficulties, and are not disheartened by slight obstructions or disappointments. Such books come immediately within the range of one branch of our undertaking.