1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Richard Blackmore

Sidney Walker, "Crumbs of Criticism" in Knight's Quarterly Magazine 2 (January 1824) 92-93.



There is, as our readers have doubtless experienced, an inexplicable pleasure in exploring recesses which we know no one else ever thinks of penetrating. Such is the kind of caprice which has often led us to diverge from the main street, into the dingy lanes and anomalous by-ways of a great metropolis. There is also in many of us a perverse propensity to question opinions which have been sanctioned by the voice of ages, and to try the cause over again, merely because we were not present at the decision. Actuated by these motives, or whatever else the reader may choose to assign, we have groped our way through the dim obscure of Sir Richard Blackmore's Epic Poems. It is almost needless to say, that we have found no reason to dissent from the opinion of our predecessors in the critical chair. Yet the impression resulting is not one of contempt. It is plain indeed throughout, that the author has palpably mistaken his powers; but this error appears to proceed rather from a natural bluntness of perception, than from vanity; for there are no traces of egotism or petty conceit in his writings. He stands absolved, as a Romanist would say, on the plea of invincible ignorance. Blackmore, being himself a sincerely religious man, was strongly impressed with the close connexion between literature and morals, and with the delinquencies of his own age in this respect; he believed himself qualified to supply the defect, and accordingly put forth works without number, in history, poetry, science, theology, and polite literature, with the view of reforming the age; and we cannot doubt that his well-meant endeavours met with their due portion of success among that numerous class of readers, whose intellects, being on a level with his own, rendered them fit recipients of his instructions. His prose is better than his verse. The prefaces are indeed the best part of these volumes; they contain a great deal of plain good sense, expressed in a neat though somewhat prolix style.

Of Blackmore's genius we need say little, for it is difficult to define a negation. He has some talent for the enunciation of sentiment; his descriptions, where he does not aim at being great, are sometimes tolerably good. He pours forth his rhymed prose with inexhaustible fluency; and fertility, even where the fruit is worthless, is more satisfactory than barrenness. His style bears a considerable resemblance to that of Hoole's Ariosto; and, in the more elaborate parts, it is sufficiently embellished with conventional phrases to entitle it to the name of poetry, according to the critical dogmas of a former age. These works are full of political discussion ("we thought his politics extremely sound") and of religious sentiment. Blackmore, though a bad poet, was a man of practical good sense, a good citizen, and a zealous Christian.