1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Henry Headley, in Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787; 1810) 1:xvii.



His translation of Homer, timed as it was, operated like an inundation in the English Republic of Letters, and has left to this day indelible marks on more than the surface of our poetry. Co-operating with the popular stream of his other works, it has formed a sort of modern Helicon, on whose banks infant poets are allured to wander and to dream; from whose streams they are content to drink inspiration, without searching for remoter sources. Whether its waters are equally pure, salutary, and deep, with the more ancient wells of English undefiled, admits of a doubt: so forcibly affected by them, however, have, been the minds of the public since his day, and so strangely enchanted with the studied and uniform flow of his harmony, that they have not only grown indifferent, but in a great measure insensible, to the mellifluous, yet artless, numbers of Spenser, Shakspeare, and Fletcher, where the pauses are not from their clockwork construction anticipated by the ear, where there is a union of ease and energy, of dignity and of grace; and, to use the words of Dryden, "the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect." But the consequences that have ensued to the cause of Poetry, from the sway of Pope, are not the happiest: in proportion as his works were read, and the dazzle of his diction admired, proselytes, who would not originally have been scribblers of verse, were gained, and the art of tagging smooth couplets, without any reference to the character of a poet, is become an almost indispensable requisite in a fashionable education.