1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Anonymous, in "On the present State of Poetical Talent" New Bon Ton Magazine 5 (September 1820) 282-85.



With the works of Messrs. Coleridge, Hunt, Keats, and Co. the world is now tolerably inundated; these worthies belong to a separate school, and, to give them their due, they are equally entitled to our notice and animadversion. What, in the name of common sense, can induce these persons to be so ridiculous and unnatural? Is it the desire of singularity, the love of insipidity, or the pleasure of being dissimilar to every body else? It is almost impossible to read half a dozen pages of their penning, without becoming sick and disgusted; they are perpetually aiming to. be nice, and, therefore, are always sure of becoming contemptible; they are always full of little conceits, half-fledged conceptions, and puerile affectations; gardens, flowers, bees, gentle showers, tiny insects, wreathing of grass, and such like trumpery, constitute their poetic vocabulary, and to describe a swallow's nest, a rainbow, or a row of garden-pots, seems the acme of their taste and ambition. Hence they flatter and review the works of each other, hence they are always bringing each other's stupidity before the public, and hence, in fact, the world gets tired with their reciprocal emptiness and dormitory propensities. The following morceau by Coleridge, is the very perfection of nonsense.

FANCY IN NUBIBUS,
OR THE POET IN THE CLOUDS.
A Sonnet, composed by the sea side, October, 1817.

Oh! it is pleasant, with a heart at ease,
Just after sunset, or by moonlight skies,
To make the shifting clouds be what you please,
Or let the easily-persuaded eyes
Own each quaint likeness issuing from the mould
Of a friend's fancy; or, with head bent low
And cheek aslant, see rivers flow of gold,
'Twist crimson banks; and then, a traveller go
From mount to mount, thro' cloudland, gorgeous land!
Or list'ning to the tide, with closed sight,
Be that blind bard, who, on the Chian strand,
By those deep sounds possess'd with inward light,
Beheld the Iliad and the Odyssee,
Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea!

What do you think of this, reader, for sublimity? For our own parts we conceive it can only be equalled by the following verses.

"My eye and Betty Martin!" what delight
It yields my soul, to see the LECTURER stand
Amidst a host, emblazon'd with gas light,
Prating of Poets to the fools at hand;
To hear with what a gravity and whim
He proves the merit of each ancient skull,—
To mark how nicely he dissects each limb,
And smiles on every wonder-stricken gull!
He, close observer! e'en amidst the cloud
Of dulness, in that atmosphere sublime,
Sees rivers flow with gold, and yawning crowds
Dropping asleep, or nodding o the chime
Of his starch utt'rance, which, if Bard may feign,
Seems like the ding-dong of ST. CLEMENTS DANE!

This jeu d'esprit was written by a young friend of ours, after a perusal of Mr. Coleridge's FANCY IN NUBIBUS, and is a sarcasm which he well merits. If we look into the volumes of Messrs. Hunt and Keats, we shall find the same puerilities, the same affectations, the same absence of real genius and poetical inspiration. They foolishly suppose that their descriptions of rural scenery must be POETRY, and poetry of the first order too. Hence Mr. Hunt denominates Mr. Keats the first poet of the day, and hence Mr. Keats bespatters his tutor with his sensible eulogies. As in their verses they reflect the folly and deformity of each other, so in their prose effusions their praises are reciprocally reflected: thus it is that

Birds of a feather
Flock together!

Whilst, however, we are thus severe on the productions of these gentlemen, we must do Mr. Hunt the justice to say, that he can be a Poet if he pleases; and our assertion can be substantiated by passages from The Story of Remini. Instead of frittering away his time and his understanding in the many trumpery things he has penned, why does he not devote his ink and his soul to subject of solid dignity and importance? The work we have mentioned shews that he possesses stamina for a fine Descriptive Poem; and we are confident that the learning he commands is equal to any incident he may select for the occupation and consideration of his muse. At present, our limits will not admit of further remark, and we must still postpone the completion of this article to our next number.