1885 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Samuel Wesley

John Henry Overton, in "The Wesleys at Epworth" Longman's Magazine 7 (1885) 49.



He was a writer of no inconsiderable merit, though he has not won a place among the immortals, and perhaps did not deserve to do so. There is a sort of perverted ingenuity about most of his literary work. What, for example, could be expected from poems published under the unpromising, not to say repulsive, title of Maggots, his first juvenile work? Who could answer satisfactorily such profound questions as "What became of the Ark after the Flood?" "Who high was Babel's Tower?" "What language was spoken by Balaam's ass?" "Did Peter and Paul use notes when they preached?" which are really not abnormal specimens of the sort of questions which were asked, and laboriously answered, by Mr. Wesley in the Athenian Gazette, a kind of seventeenth-century Notes and Queries. His poem on Blenheim suggests invidious comparisons with Addison's Campaign; and and though few will now endorse the estimate which contemporaries formed of the Campaign, fewer will deny that Addison had a far more elegant and delicate touch than Wesley. His poem on The Life of Christ and his History of the New Testament in Verse are wonderful tours de force; but it required a Milton to do justice to such lofty themes, and Mr. Wesley was no Milton. The extravagant laudations with which the first of these poems was greeted naturally provoked a reaction. The author was put on a pedestal from which a fall was inevitable. His poetry, instead of being admired, began to be laughed at. And yet it was certainly not without merit. His translation of the Great Hallel proved that at any rate one thing the great Laureate Nahum Tate said of him was true; it is far superior to the version Nahum himself has given us; and his last work, the Dissertations on the Book of Job, shows that the writer, if not a poet, was at any rate a learned divine and an excellent Latin scholar.