1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Hervey

Rev. Charles Burton, in The Bardiad; a Poem (1823) pp. 8, 64-67n.



Mid tombs and stars the florid HERVEY glows,
Writes as a Poet, tho' he writes in prose.

The style of Hervey has usually been denominated bombastic. In a few instances, there may be a turgidity and pomp, to which the squeamish critic may object. But Hervey ought not to he regarded a prose, so much as a poetic, writer. Hervey possesses Description, Imagery, and Sentiment, which are the essence of Poetry, in a degree, which entitle him to rank with the sublimest Poets. If his "Meditations" do not possess the charms of melody, resulting from the measured collocation of words and successive correspondence of sounds, (such as we find, in great perfection, in Goldsmith, Pope, and Campbell,) they possess what is of an infinitely higher character. It is the Poetry of Imagination. It's genius is displayed in the figures and similes, more than in the words. It is a mistake to suppose that the floridity lies in the style. It was in the mind of the author. His work contains the essence of Poetry; a quality which suffers little even by translation; and which, sometimes, even gains by it; as, in those instances, where the foreign language can display the conception of the Poet, with greater vividness, strength, and adaptation, than his vernacular tongue. Let the compositions of Pope be presented in the dress of another language; they will lose their fascination at once; because the genius of the writing is more in words and sounds, than in thoughts and figures. Thus, there may be Melody without Poetry, and there may be Poetry in Prose. Let the GREAT Poets be subjected to the same ordeal. Let Isaiah, Ossian, Homer, Dante, be rendered into the prose of all the languages of the earth; still the Poetry remains. So long as the images and similes are preserved, the essence of the Poetry can, by no legerdemain, be dissipated. It is on this ground that we denominate Hervey a Poet; and a Poet of the first class. However, let the reader form his own judgment from the following specimens:

"See! how the day is shortened! — The Sun, detained in fairer climes, or engaged in more agreeable services, rises, like an unwilling visitant, with tardy and reluctant steps. He walks, with a shy indifference, along the edges of the southern sky; casting an oblique glance, he just looks upon our dejected world; and scarcely scatters light, through the thick air. Dim is his appearance, languid are his gleams, while he continues. Or, if he chance to wear a brighter aspect, and a cloudless brow; yet, like the young and gay in the house of mourning, be seems uneasy till he is gone; is in haste to depart. — And let him depart! Why should we wish for his longer stay; since he can show us nothing but the creation in distress? The flowery families lie dead, and the tuneful tribes are struck dumb. The trees stript of their verdure, and lashed by storms, spread their naked arms to the enraged and relentless heavens. Fragrance no longer floats in the air; but chilling damps hover, or cutting gales blow. Nature, divested of all her beautiful robes, sits, like a forlorn disconsolate widow, in her weeds. While winds, in doleful accents, howl; and rains, in repeated showers, weep." — "Winter Piece."

"How frequently is the face of nature changed! and, by changing, made more agreeable!-The long-continued glitter of the day, renders the soothing shades of the evening doubly welcome. Nor does the morn ever purple the east with so engaging a lustre, as after the gloom of a dark and dismal night. — At present, a calm of tranquillity is spread through the universe. The weary winds have forgot to blow. The gentle gales have fanned themselves asleep. Not so much as a single leaf nods. Even the quivering aspin rests. And not one breath curls o'er the stream. — Sometimes, on the contrary, the tempest summons all the forces of the air; and pours itself, with resistless fury, from the angry north. The whole atmosphere is tossed into tumultuous confusion, and the watery world is heaved to the clouds. The astonished mariner, and his straining vessel, now scale the rolling mountain, and hang dreadfully visible on the broken surge: now shoot, with headlong impetuosity, into the yawning guiph; and neither hulk, nor mast is seen. The storm sweeps over the continent: raves along the city-streets: struggles through the forest-boughs; and terrifies the savage nations with a howl, more wildly horrid than their own. The knotty oaks bend before the blast; their iron trunks groan; and their stubborn limbs are dashed to the ground. The lofty dome rocks; and even the solid tower totters on it's basis." — "Contemplations on the Night."

The whole of the "Descant upon the Creation" is in the finest tone of poetic inspiration. Hervey seems to have studied, with attention, Milton, — and Young, his cotemporary; and above all, to have taken his best illustrations from that most luxuriant and unfathomable treasure of Poetry, THE BIBLE.