1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Lisle Bowles

Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Review of Bowles, Poems never before published; The Monthly Review 60 (December 1809) 432.



The name of Mr. Bowles will render this volume acceptable to many whose approbation reflects honor; and we have not perused it without experiencing esteem for the feeling and poetic mind by which it has been dictated. Yet, though we find in these poems beautiful imagery, sensibility, and poetic fancy, they do not entirely satisfy either the heart or the imagination. Mr. Bowles possesses some of the fire of genius, but he often employs it as an ignis fatuus to dance and dazzle; or, to change the metaphor, he is like a Hawk attempting the regions where the Eagle soars; he rises beyond the sight of the twittering crew, but he never entirely fulfills the expectations which he is capable of exciting. This is more the case in the present volume than it was in his Sonnets; and the reason is that in the Sonnets he was obliged to give his desultory thoughts and images a greater degree of condensation. For want of this restraint, though many passages in his longer poems are touching, few comparatively are forcible, some lines are very weak, and the whole is very unequal in merit. Perhaps Mr. Bowles may consider this observation as a compliment, and say with Martial;

Aequalis liber est, Critice, qui malus est.

At any rate, if Expectations be the happiest feeling of Mankind, the reader of Mr. Bowles's Poems will be truly felicitous; and like the Countryman who dug a field all over in hopes of finding a hidden treasure, though he may not meet in one spot with the collected gems of ages, he will rejoice as he goes along, and find at the end of his task he is repaid for it by the advantage and pleasure which its performance has procured him.