1737 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Gildon

William Oldys, in The British Muse (1737) 1:xvi-xviii.



Mr. Gildon thought his predecessor's [Bysshe's] defects sufficient reasons for attempting to give us a more exalted "taste" of the poets in a piece, which he calls, The Compleat Art of Poetry; and, indeed, if I may be allowed to play upon a word, it is but a "taste," and much too small an one to answer the title he gives it. His whole work is comprized in two small volumes, of which one consists almost entirely of critical discourses on the several species of poetry, and rules for composing them. The rest is a collection of passages from poets, in which he tells us, as his ends were different, he has pursued a different method from the preceding author, whose view was only to teach the structure of the several kinds of verse, and to give a catalogue of rhymes, poetical figures, epithets, and synonymous words and phrases. "But the design of my collection," says he, "is to give the reader the great images that are to be found in our poets, who are truly great, as well as their topicks and moral reflections." Wherefore he informs us, he has been pretty large in his citations from Spenser, whom the other has rejected; and seems to think that he has gone through Shakespear, that the same author almost entirely excludes. Accordingly, at the end of his first volume, he gives us a collection, which he calls "Shakespeariana," but it consists of less than sixty pages; though, to have extracted only a part of the sublime images and sentiments of that divine and incomparable poet, would have filled a much larger volume than one, or perhaps both, of Mr. Gildon's. He owns, he might have been much more extensive; but thinks what he has cited, sufficiently demonstrates the bad judgment of those who reject Shakespear for his obsolete language. In the other volume, which is an alphabetical extract, Spenser's images are introduced with some extent. The rest of it is but a slight collection, consisting of odd and particular topicks, often with only one or two passages in them, and but few of the moral reflections he promised. What is worst, he often repeats Bysshe's quotations, and gives us few heads, or authors of consequence (except the two we have mentioned) which had escaped that compiler. And, indeed, he was not very extensively read in our poets, had not a sufficient number of them ancient or modern, and was not industrious enough in extracting from those he had; which, perhaps, might proceed in some measure from the limits prescribed to his work. Whatever success this book may have had we cannot say; but there has since appeared two collections of the same kind, which, as the compilers of them have thought fit to conceal their names, we shall leave to the judgment of the publick.