1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hughes

John Wilson, in "Spenser" Blackwood's Magazine 36 (1834) 424.



Hughes, we believe, was rather a distinguished man in his day, and we have more than a shrewd suspicion that he wrote in the Spectator — perhaps the Tatler — pardon our ignorance, if we be wrong — but he was, though not a uniform, a too frequent dunce. "That which seems most liable to exception in this work is the model of it, and the choice of the author has made of so romantic a story." Look at this sentence for a minute or two, and you will never think of trying to fathom its folly. Spenser, it seems, was unfortunate, or rather blamable, in choosing a subject not fit for poetry, and then attempting to compose a poem on a bad model. 'Tis a great pity, that he wasted his great powers on the Faery Queen. What other kind of story Mr. Hughes would have proposed — or what other model — he has not hinted; and had he been shut up in a cell without coal or candle or cowheel, till he should produce on black and white something like the skeleton-scheme of a subject for a poem to be substituted by Spenser for his ill-chosen and worse-model-led Faery Queen — poor Hughes would have been an-hungered, and assisted the rats in gnawing the bottom of his prison-door. Amiable and moral mediocre men, rather below the line in intellect — but studious, and addicted to literature — all the while they imagine themselves to be conservatives, do indeed keep unconsciously inditing most outrageous radicalism. The site of the house is ill-chosen, and the house itself built according to a bad model — yet all the world declares it commands a noble prospect, and within has much accommodation; the tree should not have been planted on that knoll, nor is it the kind of tree that suits the climate — yet it is much admired by ignorant people, and much cattle ruminate in its shade; the book is on an unfortunate subject, nor has the author made a happy distribution of that unfortunate subject — yet the book is read — nay, sells — and the copyright given in exchange for the fee-simple of a snug farm, while the critic flourishes only in the gazette.