1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry James Pye

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:850-51.



1813, Aug. 11. Died, HENRY JAMES PYE, poet-laureate, who, if he did not possess great genius, was not deficient in the patriotic spirit of the times. He was born in London in the year 1745, and educated at Magdalen college, Oxford, where he was created LL.D. in 1772, and in 1784 was in parliament for Berkshire. Mr. James Pye resumed the practice of writing a new-year ode; but after 1796, neither new-year nor birth-day odes appear in the periodical publications; and we are therefore inclined to suppose that the serious events of the war put a final stop to this tom-foolery. He translated the war verses of Tyrtaeus the Spartan, for the purpose of animating the British militia against the French; and a board of general officers, much impressed by their weight and importance, agreed to give all the effect in their power to his intentions. The verses were accordingly read aloud at Warley-common and Barham-downs by the adjutants, at the head of five different regiments, at each camp; and much was expected. But before they were half finished, all the front ranks, and as many as were within hearing or verse-shot, dropped their arms suddenly, and were all found fast asleep. Marquis Townsend, who never approved of the scheme, wittily remarked, that the first of all poets had observed, that Sleep is the brother of Death. This laureate, who consented to the commutation of his butt of wine for twenty-seven pounds, was succeeded by Mr. Robert Southey, the present occupant of the title and its accompanying pension, and the first man of true poetical genius who has held it since the dismissal of Dryden. It is rather curious to observe, that the laureats appointed by the Stuarts were uniformly men of a high order of genius, and that those nominated by the Brunswick sovereigns, during the whole of the first century of their sway, were, with the single exception of Warton, the dullest pretenders to poetry who existed in their respective lifetimes.