1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 8:659.



As a great and general writer, Hill must be allowed to stand in a very exalted rank of merit. His tragedies, particularly Zara and Merope, are generally known and admired. His poems seem not have hitherto obtained so much notice as they deserve. Dr. Warton has unjustly represented him as "an affected and fustian writer," who, "by some means or other, gained Pope's confidence and friendship." Although it may be allowed, that the rigid correctness with which he constantly re-perused his compositions for alteration, the frequent use of compound epithets, singularity of sentiment, bold experiments in language, and an ordo verborum peculiar to himself, have justly laid him open to the charge of being, in some places rather too turgid, and in others somewhat stiff and obscure; yet, the nervous power, force, and weight of sentiment, opulence of imagery, and intrinsic sterling sense with which his writings abound, amply atone for the harshness of the style, and the peculiarity of the diction. They are evidently the production of a genius truly poetical; they have an air of originality, which has no resemblance of any contemporary writer; and the versification and sentiments have a cast peculiar to themselves, which cannot be successfully imitated. The images are animated, though sometimes indistinct; the descriptions forcible, though sometimes quaint; the language elevated, though sometimes forced; and the numbers majestic and flowing, though sometimes encumbered and sluggish. His faults are, not want of fire or enthusiasm, of which he has an ample share; but an elaborate exactness of language, that rather obscures than heightens the beauty and force of the thought, and a studied refinement of sentiment, supported by the utmost effort of language, which has more magnificence than sublimity, more dignity than grace.

In extenuation of his faults, it ought to be observed, that the versatility of his genius was unfavourable to the attainment of excellence; and that he cultivated poetry only as a relaxation from the study of history, criticism, geography, physic, commerce, agriculture, war, law, chemistry, and natural philosophy, to which he devoted the greatest part of his time.