1858 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Lamb

Cyrus Redding, in Fifty Years' Recollections (1858) 2:183-84.



About this time the cockney school of literature, as it was called, gave the tone to a small class of publications. It was a school of contracted views, affecting great simplicity and benevolence, and might be called a branch in descent from Southey and the Lake School, but mixed up with metropolitan opinions, and a habit of dwelling upon trifles, and holding very limited ideas of things. It was confined, or nearly so, to a circle ten miles round London.

The subjects treated upon were not drawn from the infinite diversity of mind the metropolis proffers for study, but from rural contemplations, and descantings upon the scenery of nature almost upon the verge of the streets and houses. The Alps were nothing to Primrose Hill, and the elms upon its summit, were as the cedars of Lebanon to the ready writer. Hampstead outvied Parnassus, dandelions and daffydown-dillies, butter-cups and periwinkles, outshone roses and exotics in the floral song. The sensibility was awakened to novel things, much in the way Coleridge, with a spice of the same tendency, addressed a Jerusalem pony, "I hail thee brother!" New phrases were coined for application to the plashy ground tenanted by Rhodes the cowkeeper, and his lacteal animals, and the peak of Hampstead became as famous in their view as Chimborazo in that of the Herr Humboldt. Wilson ridiculed the school in "Blackwood" too unmercifully, pushing his ridicule as usual to excess, as if making small things great, and passing over great things in doing so, were anything more than an untoward fancy, harmless enough in its way. Its devotees too, were excellent kind men. It might have been an affected lackadaisical school, touched with a sort of literary effeminacy, that from indicating want of stamina, bespoke little longevity, and a constant tendency to exhale itself into dissolution. Cockaigne had always its peculiar literature, down to that of the Seven Dial ballads. Talfourd set out in his literary career with some of the tendencies of this school, and did not wholly shake them off until a late period in his life.