1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

Philo-Lyristes, "Gray and Collins" Gentleman's Magazine 52 (January 1782) 22.



MR. URBAN,

As I believe that very few periodical publications are more distinguished for taste than The Gentleman's Magazine, I shall, without any further apology, beg leave to be indulged with making a few observations on Lyric Poetry. I am led, Sir, to these remarks by reading Dr. Johnson's Lives of the English Poets; "Magnus Aristoteles, sed major veritas." I admire, as much as any man living, the Doctor's style and general sentiments; but I own that I felt myself hurt by the liberties which he has taken with two of our most celebrated Lyric Poets, viz. Gray and Collins. In regard to the former, notwithstanding all that learning can say to the contrary, his Bard and his Ode on the Progress of Poetry are by far the two best in the English language, not even excepting Dryden's most admired Ode on St. Cecilia's Day. And let Dr. Johnson, with all his erudition, produce me another Lyric ode equal to Collins on the Passions: indeed the frequent public of this last-mentioned poem are a mark of its universally-acknowledged excellence. Lyric pieces are the more valuable, as few puny bards, in these degenerate days, are hardly enough to attempt anything like that bold style.

Tasker's Warlike Ode, his Ode to Speculation, and some others, are proofs, that true lyric spirit is still extant; but this man publishes so rapidly, and so incorrectly, that his poetry is very defective in point of polish: his translations of Pindar are very just, and much in the spirit of the original; but it is pity, that genius should be thrown away upon the inferior odes of Pindar, which are scarcely worth preserving. Hayley is the first poet of the age in the allegorical style; but his lyrics, with all their beautiful correctness, are void of lyric spirit. There is, however, a poetess of the age, in whom almost every poetical excellence seems to be united. I need not tell you, that it is Miss Seward; produce me any female writer who equals that lady; "et eris mihi magnus Apollo" — her merit is so universally acknowledged, that I trust I shall not be suspected of flattery to a female.

PHILO-LYRISTES.