1813 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bernard Barton

Francis Hodgson, Review of Barton, Metrical Effusions; The Monthly Review NS 70 (February 1813) 211-13.



The author of these verses declares, in an advertisement, that "they are published at the desire of a few friends; but not in the hope of interesting the public." This is an ill-starred introduction to any volume. It is not often the case that, we have to admonish poets against distrusting themselves: but it sometimes happens; and that distrust is even more dangerous to their general reputation than too much confidence. In the present instance, it was altogether unnecessary; since, although in this age of versifying we by no means feel justified in ranking "Metrical Effusions" high in the scale of poetical merit, some of the compositions here published rise above mediocrity; and, throughout the whole production, we observe an air of good feeling and of good taste. Affectation, indeed, though rarely, sometimes disfigures both these excellent qualities; or, perhaps, in strict justice, we should only say the latter. — We shall offer to our readers some pleasing specimens of the author's abilities. We begin with a good humoured trifle intitled "Whigs and Tories," inscribed to a fair friend: but are not politics an unusual subject for verses intended to be placed on a lady's toilette? The lines, however, are not uninteresting; and we heartily wish that it was more common to use the tone of these amicable disputants in arguing on similar questions:

WHIGS AND TORIES. Inscribed to—
Susan, in friendship's social hour,
Perchance for want of better themes,
We've scann'd the deeds of those in power,
And argued on their various schemes.

Of Whigs and Tories, ins and outs,
Of this or that administration;
We've own'd our fears, our hopes, and doubts
From which the state might hope salvation.

Nor did our converse lack the zest
Which different principles could give;
A Tory thou, and I confest
As staunch a Whig as e'er could live.

Oft, when to censure Pitt I've dar'd
In sober truth, or playful mirth,
How zealously hast thou declar'd
His matchless powers, his peerless worth.

By me the Statesman's fame and power
Unheeded shone, though bright their blaze;
But I must own, at such an hour,
I've almost envied him thy praise.

For, trust me, Susan, the esteem
And homage of a heart like thine;
My partial taste must ever deem
A source of pleasure half divine.

The "Whig" continues, through some pleasing stanzas, to record an illness under which he suffered, when he was attended by his "Tory" friend as "a ministering angel;" and he thus expresses his gratitude, but his unconquerable difference of opinion, at the conclusion:

No, no, secure from all decay
Thy virtues live; and, right or wrong,
Be thy opinions which they may,
Still thou shalt claim my grateful song.

And though I fear I still must he
A Whig, and in the name must glory;
So warm my friendship, that, for thee,
I would, but cannot, be a Tory!

An "Elegy," page 201., has some good passages, but is too much enfeebled with redundant expressions, and is too common-place in its images, through the larger portion. We transcribe a few of the letter lines. The author is consoling those who die at a distance from their country:

And say, when summoned to the realms on high.
If to the soul eternal bliss he given,
What boots it where we heave our parting sigh,
Or whence the tool triumphant springs to Heaven.

When Howard's spirit, from Tartarian plains,
Wing'd its glad flight to Virtue's blest abode,
Seraphic harps awoke celestial strains,
Attendant Angels guided it to God.

The "Pains of Memory" supply several tolerable stanzas, and several which are very indifferent. Nothing sinks very low, and nothing rises near to those exquisite lines which are printed in the notes to some of the editions of the "Pleasures of Memory," on the former subject. The familiarity of introducing "Hannah Meadows" in the Spenserian stanza cannot be too keenly ridiculed. Every person of taste is in duty bound to contribute his quota of sarcasm, or of argument, or of downright laughter, (the most successful instrument of the three, in all cases of the kind,) to prevent the farther degradation of our poetry by admitting into it all the population of our villages. Hobbinol and Colin Clout were quite graceful compared to these vulgar realities. The couplet has been already sacrificed to them by powerful genius, which overthrows all obstacles, and contrives in spite of every drawback to please even those who are most conscious of its offences. — Let the stanza of Spenser at least be preserved sacred from these sins of grossness; which destroy all the ideal charm of verse; and which, instead of rendering it a pleasant relief to the cares and crosses of the world, make it a tame copy of existing miseries.

We had marked several phrases for censure, but shaft be contented with generally stating that much room is left for amendment in expression; and with particularly objecting to the poems of "Weeltimed Daffin" and "Caledonie."