1738 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Bodenham

William Oldys, in The British Muse (1738) 1:vii-viii.



A gentleman undoubtedly ambitious of distinguishing himself by the Laconick singularity of his performance. Hence, we suppose it was, that he made it his inviolable rule to admit no quotation of more than one line, or a couplet of ten syllables. This makes him so sparing of his sense, and gives him so dogmatical an air, that his reader is rather offended, than satisfied with his entertainment. The length or brevity of a passage is, indeed, no reason for either admitting or rejecting it; its value being to be rated not by its size, but sense; but where the former is so penurious, the latter ought to make amends either in beauty or instruction. This, his friend the publisher seems to have understood; for he tells us, his author would not be persuaded to enlarge his method, and promises ample additions in the second impression. So affected a piece did not escape censure. It was exposed in a dramatick performance at Cambridge a few years after [Return to Parnassus], in which the poet compares this mutilating compiler "to a poor beggar gleaning of ears after harvest:" (he might have said "single grains" from those ears.) There is, indeed, so abrupt and sudden a hurry from one idea to another in every chapter of his book, that the sentences slip through the reader's apprehension as quicksilver through the fingers; he scarce perceives them before they are gone. The author had not only a friend to distribute these minute particles for him under proper heads, and to subjoin a section of similes, and another of examples, to each of them; but a printer so observant of an odd method and uniformity, undoubtedly prescribed him, that there has scarce been a book printed since with a formality so remarkably insignificant. But there is another singularity of a more serious nature in this performance, which is, the collector's having omitted to annex the poets names to his citations; which leaves room to suspect, that he was afraid of being detected of having mangled his originals egregiously in his barbarous manner of curtailing them.