1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Anonymous, in "On the present State of Poetical Talent" New Bon Ton Magazine 5 (September 1820) 280-82.



In the genius of Mr. Wordsworth we see nothing that is either dignified or sprightly; its pervading quality seems heaviness, or rather drowsiness; and its most sublime and preternatural flight appears constantly impeded by a weight, which even the better understanding of his style and subject does not throw off. We know of no writer to whom he is materially indebted for either sentiment or imagery, none with whom he bears any resemblance, and very few by whom he is not completely surpassed, in all the principal requisites that constitute a real poet.

This is owing, in a great measure, to the manner in which he treats his subjects, to his never-failing minuteness, amplification, and disposition to be correct. He has no wing — no enthusiasm — no lofty and imaginary aspirations; he appears perpetually aiming at a height he never is able to reach, and the very awkward efforts he makes to obtain this desideratum, generally place him in the most curious predicament imaginable. Mr. Wordsworth is, nevertheless, a man of sense and genius, and were his supposed poetical labours transformed to prose dissertations, he would be a truly philosophical luminary: at present, however, he is neither a pleasing philosopher, and extremely remote from a tolerable poet.

The gloom that always wraps him round
The dullest eye nay see
Springs from a wish to be profound,
And please posterity;
But every aim to be sublime,
Will never once prevail;
And each attempt in verse and rhyme,
In him is sure to fail!

Indeed, Mr. Wordsworth's muse seems to have no energy but in dullness and laboured nonentities, and he is perpetually aiming at something striking and original, and (miserable fate!) always leaves us in the midst of a smoky and impervious atmosphere.

Whilst, however, Wordsworth fails to please us, his friend Mr. Southey lays claim to our attention; not because he is a whit wiser, but because he knows better how to turn his acquirements to account. Mr. Southey, indeed, has nothing mentally lofty about him, he is a bard of the earth and not of the heavens; he has no flight, no intrepidity to reach the stars; he is laborious to little purpose; his finest attempts are futile and unnatural, but he is, nevertheless, frequently pleasing, and always above mediocrity.

The great blemish in the writings of both Southey and Wordsworth is the local affectation which pervades them, the spirit of the Lakes seems always about them, and so fond are these gentlemen of their ruralities, that they seldom fail to convince us of their attachments, and pester us with their fine situations. With all their genius, with all the beautiful scenery by which they are surrounded, to say nothing of their independence and brilliant society, they are alike deficient of genuine poetic excellence, and they are no more able to produce such a poem as Dyer's "Grongar Hill," than we are to span the rainbow!

It was our intention to have made a few extracts from their more voluminous and elaborate publications, but we must forego this design to attend to other matters; and as few would thank us for our industry, we shall pass over avowed dullness, to present our readers with something less objectionable, though, peradventure, not less deficient in genius.