1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Bysshe

Isaac D'Israeli, in Curiosities of Literature (1836; 1881) 3:497-98.



Our writers, then struggling to create an age of genius of their own, forgot that they had had any progenitors, or while they were acquiring new modes of excellence, that they were losing others, to which their posterity or the national genius might return. (To know, and to admire only, the literature and the tastes of our own age, is a species of elegant barbarism.) Spenser was considered nearly as obsolete as Chaucer; Milton was veiled by oblivion, and Shakspeare's dramas were so imperfectly known, that in looking over the play-bills of 1711, and much later, I find that whenever it chanced that they were acted, they were always announced to have been "written by Shakspeare." Massinger was unknown; and Jonson, though called "immortal" in the old play-bills, lay entombed in his two folios. The poetical era of Elizabeth, the eloquent age of James the First, and the age of wit of Charles the Second, were blanks in our literary history. Bysshe, compiling an Art of Poetry in 1718, passed by in his collection "Spenser and the poets of his age, because their language is now become so obsolete that most readers of our age have no ear for them, and therefore Shakspeare himself is so rarely cited in my collection." The best English poets were considered to be the modern; a taste which is always obstinate!