1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Sheffield

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 7:341, 344.



Coming very young to the possession of a plentiful estate, and in an age when pleasure was more in fashion than business, he prosecuted his studies amidst the allurements of dissipation; and in making his way to the military and civil employments suitable to his high birth and polite accomplishments, he was never wholly negligent of literature, but at least cultivated poetry; in which he must have early risen to a considerable degree of eminence, if it be true, which is reported, that when he was not yet twenty years old, his recommendation advanced Dryden to the laurel, vacant by the death of Davenant . . .

Of his other poetical pieces, the Essay on Poetry is the most distinguished. It seems to have been his favourite production; for he was all his life improving it by successive revisals; so that there is scarcely any poem to be found of which the last editions differ more from the first. It is ranked by Addison (Spectator, No. 253.) with Roscommon's Essay on translated Verse, and Pope's Essay on Criticism. Though the versification is careless, the sense is always clear, and the rules are commonly just, and often delivered with ease, and sometimes with energy. It is justly ranked among our best didactic poems.