1872 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Oldham

William Cullen Bryant, in "Oldham's Poems" 1872; Prose Works (1884) 1:127-28.



His odes show that he possessed a genuine poetic enthusiasm, which appears through all his negligence of versification and diction, and often finds expression in majestic imagery and flowing numbers. He is no artist in his vocation. Dryden is our witness that he had not well learned "the numbers of his native tongue." He has none of those happy turns of thought and expression which the practiced and expert author attains by skilful search or resolute writing: what he has, came to him in the glow of rapid composition; and these so often that few poets can boast of so illustrious a train of imitators. His rhymes are marvelously bad: indeed, it is often amusing to see what distant resemblances of sound he is content to accept as substitutes for rhymes. Yet he has nothing worse than the cockney rhyme in Leigh Hunt's Feast of the Poets:

And tother some rhymes he had made on a straw,

Showing how he found it, and what it was for.

Dr. Johnson thought so well of Oldham that he at one time projected an edition of his writings, with a biography and notes. The earlier editions contain some pieces of an indelicate character; but in the later ones these are omitted. It is, perhaps, hardly to be expected that another edition will be published, so many are the passages in the Satires disfigured by the coarse taste of the age in which Oldham lived.