1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dennis

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 257-61.



If I did not allow this Gentleman to be a good Poet, and the greatest Critick of this Age, I should be wanting in Justice to his Character. In his Grounds of Criticism, he observes, that the antient Poets deriv'd that Advantage which they have over the Moderns, to the constituting their Subjects after a Religious manner; and he proves from the Precepts of Longinus, tho' that Author did not make the Discovery, that the greatest Sublimity is to be deriv'd from Religious Ideas. He is of Opinion, that one of the principal Reasons that has made the modern Poetry so contemptible, is, that by divesting it self of Religion, it is fallen from its Dignity, and its original Nature and Excellence; and from the greatest Production of the Mind of Man, is dwindled to an extravagant and vain Amusement. These Reflections are very much for the Reputation of the Author; and in another Place, speaking of Subjects for Poetry, There are some Persons (says he) mov'd by Love, and are not touch'd by Ambition; others are animated by Ambition, and only laugh at Love: Some are pleas'd with a brave Revene, others with a generous Contempt of Injuries; but the Eternal Power, and infinite Knowledge of God, the Wonders of Creation, and the beautiful Brightness of Virtue, make a powerful Impression on all. Mr. Dennis is very fond of Milton, a certain Demonstration of his sound Judgment, and in his Blank Verse he has come nearest that sublime Poet of any of his Contemporaries. His Poems are the following,

I. Upon our Victory at Sea, and burning the French Fleet at La Hogue in 1692. This Poem is writ in Rhyme, and, after an admirable Description of the Enemy's Fleet shatter'd and destroy'd, the Author has this Simile.

Thus a large Row of Oaks does long remain
The Ornament and Shelter of the Plain:
With their aspiring Heads they reach the Sky,
Their huge extended Arms the Winds defy;
The Tempest sees their Strength, and sighs, and passes by:
When Jove, concern'd that they so high aspire,
Amongst them sends his own Revenging Fire:
Which does with dismal Havock on them fall,
Burns some, and tears up some, but rends them all:
From their dead Trunks their mangled Arms are torn,
And from their Heads their scatter'd Glories born:
Upon the Heath they blasted stand, and bare;
And those, whom once they shelter'd, now they scare.

II. A Pindarick Ode on the King: Written in the Year 1691, occasion'd by the Victory at Aghrim.

III. To Mr. Dryden, upon his Translation of the Third Book of Virgil's Georgicks. This is an Excellent Pindarick, and begins thus:

While mounting with expanded Wings,
The Mantuan Swan unbounded Heav'n explores;
While with Seraphick Sounds he tow'ring sings,
Till to Divinity he soars;
Mankind stands wond'ring at his Flight—

IV. Part of the Te Deum paraphras'd, in Pindarick Verse.

V. The Court of Death: A Pindarick Poem, dedicated to the Memory of her most sacred Majesty Queen Mary. This is a very good Piece; it has these Lines on Death:

Thou, whose impartial Scepter injures none,
The justest Potentate that fills a Throne,
Supremely Just, and merciful alone:
Who stand'st with Arms extended to embrace
The Wretches, that in Thee their utmost Refuge place:
And tam'st proud Monarchs with an Iron Sway,
Whom soon or late the Imperial Slaves obey.

VI. The Passion of Byblis; made English from the ninth Book of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

VII. The Monument: A Poem sacred to the Immortal Memory of King William the Third. Dedicated to William Duke of Devonshire.

VIII. A Poem on the Battel of Blenheim, dedicated to Queen Anne. This is the chief of Mr. Dennis's Performances, and is indeed an admirable Poem. The following Lines in it, in my Opinion, are very near upon an Equality with Milton, and they are wrote after the manner of his Hymn to the Creator.

Begin my Soul, and strike the living Lyre!
Join ye deliver'd Nations in the Song!
Your Voices ye deliver'd Nations join!
All your harmonious Instruments unite.
And thou, Great Queen, the Glory of thy Sex,
The Prop and Glory of the noblest Isle;
On whom e'en William looks admiring down—

Germania! raise the tuneful Voice to Heaven;
Let thy fierce Eagle tow'ring to the Skies,
In Thunder hear thy Maker's Praise to Heav'n,
Who has for thee perform'd amazing things,
Which but to hope had been Presumption thought—

And thou too with thy Maker's Praise resound,
Thou Field of Blenheim, once obscure, accurst,
But now Great Blenheim's happy glorious Field!
Thou who wert charm'd with the transporting Sight,
Who saw'st the Godlike Men, the Godlike Deed,
Who saw'st them thund'ring in the fierce Pursuit,
While Danube, rising with revenging Flood,
Swallow'd whole Legions with a hideous Roar:
Immortal Blenheim! pre-ordain'd by Fate
To be the blissful Spot that frees the World;
Raise to the ravish'd Skies thy thund'ring Voice,
For thou to all Posterity are blest;
Blest above all beauteous Fields, o'er which
The winding Danube curls his amorous Arms,
No length of Days thy Glory shall deface,
Nor ever Darkness of the Night obscure.

IX. On the Battel of Ramellies. A Poem, in five Books, dedicated to Charles Lord Halifax. The Author in this Piece, describing the Death of Colonel Bringfield remounting the Duke of Marlborough, has these Verses:

Marlb'rough remounted, seeks the Joys of Heav'n,
The Wisdom and the Force of Gods He feels;
And now he leads the shouting Squadrons on—

X. On the Accession of King George to the British Throne.

Mr. Dennis, in all his Writings, is a zealous Defender of Liberty; and, in his Military Poems, there appears great Spirit, and Thoughts very beautiful. He has written, besides his Poetry, An Essay on Publick Spirit, and several other learned Tracts in Prose; and a Collection of Letters very much admir'd.