1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. David Rivers

L. M. S., Review of Rivers, Miscellaneous Works; Analytic Review 24 (November 1796) 551-52.



In a sermon published a few months ago (see page 72 of the present volume) Mr. R. promised the world his miscellaneous works, with memoirs of his life, containing "some of the most interesting anecdotes of literature that have yet been presented to the public." The promise is now in part fulfilled. The first volume of the miscellaneous works makes it's appearance; and memoirs of the author's life are prefixed; but we have searched in vain through these memoirs for those "most interesting anecdotes of literature," which our curiosity was eager to devour. The whole forty-four pages do not afford a single incident concerning the writer, which our readers would thank us for copying. What is it to the public, that the first words which Mr. R. spoke, were "vanity of vanities;" that in his childhood he was fond of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and disliked the Assembly's Catechism; — that he was once in danger of being drowned; — that when a school-boy he was fond of reading, and, as his master nonsensically enough said, "worked like a dragon;" — that he had the misfortune not to make his entry on the world as a regular clergyman, but after being taught the mechanical art of watch-making, he studied by himself theology and morals; — that he read himself into infidelity, and out of it again; — that he commenced author and preacher, gained some literary acquaintance, and read twelve lectures on the early part of english history; and that he married an elegant and accomplished young lady in her seventeenth year? Mr. R. speaks of himself as having seen more variegated scenes of life than most other persons: if so, he is either very sparing in his communications, or very unfortunate in his manner of conveying them: — the literary characters which Mr. R. introduces into his memoirs are, principally, bishop Watson, who is complimented as a prelate in whom are centred all the virtues and talents that have ever adorned the episcopal bench, and as a man born to render his name immortal; — the rev. Mr. Stockdale, on whom he bestows liberal encomiums; — Mr. David Williams, of whom, to gratify the curiosity of his readers, he relates, some particulars already well known; and Messrs. Godwin and Holcroft, whom he describes as fellow labourers in subverting the foundations of true religion, sound morality, and good government. Concerning the last-mentioned gentleman, Mr. R. assures the public, that the late popular work, entitled The Age of Reason, is their joint production, the name of Thomas Paine being surreptitiously annexed, to insure it a rapid and extensive sale. This anecdote, he says, he has upon very good authority; but adds, that he will not vouch for it's authenticity. How, we ask, can Mr. R. justify himself for bringing forward, against Mr. Godwin and Mr. Holcroft an accusation of literary fraud, which he does not choose to support by evidence? — Nothing, we conceive, could have given birth to this insipid and uninteresting biographical memoir, but the vanity of ranking among those "celebrated personages," who have written their own lives.

Next follow six sermons, five of which are now first published. Whatever advantage these sermons might derive, from delivery in the pulpit, they are too trite and juvenile in sentiment, and too negligent in style, to attract much attention from the press. "Vernal spring;" — "the lovely warblers of the grove 'drove' from their seat;" — "the 'price' of provisions 'preclude' multitudes;" — "Jesus Christ the 'fac-simile' of his father's person;" — are a few of the peculiarities of expression in these sermons. Of the flimsy declamation in which they abound, the reader may take a short specimen from the sermon on the vanity of the world: — p. 83.

"The most august titles and dignities will not skreen their professors from the stroke of death — sultans, emperors, kings, princes, dukes, and lords, must lay down their insignia of majesty and nobility, and say to the worm, 'Thou are my sister.'"

P. 84. — "Where are the mighty egyptians, who under the government of Sesostris, extended their conquests far and wide? Where the grecian empire, which under the auspices of that enterprising Alexander the Great, conquered the greatest part of the known world? — And where is Rome, at one time the mistress of the globe? Alas, they are no more! and the same changes, the same vicissitudes which affected them, will likewise happen unto us — the time will come, when it will be said of the nations, now renowned in the world, 'They are no more.'"

This pathetic lamentation brings to the recollection the poet's piteous moan:

Ah woful me! Ah woful man!
Ah woful all, do all we can!
Who can on earthly things depend,
From one to t' other moment's end?
Honour, wit, genius, wealth and glory,
Good lack! good lack! are transitory!
Nothing is sure and stable found!
The very earth itself turns round!!
LLOYD.

Under the pompous title of "A Synopsis of Biography systematically arranged," follows a meagre list of divines, many of whom have little claim to a nitch in the gallery of biography, with a few lines of dull uninteresting information concerning each. Two superficial lectures on the early part of english history close this volume. The author speaks in his preface, of letters, essays, and translations; but as none of these appear in this volume, we suppose they are reserved for a second.