1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Spence

Joseph Warton, in Life of Pope; Works of Alexander Pope, ed. Warton 1:xxxv-vi.



In 1726, Mr. Joseph Spence, Fellow of New College in Oxford, but not yet Professor of Poetry, as Dr. Johnson imagined him to be, (my father holding that office at the time,) published an Essay on the Odyssey, in a dialogue betwixt Philypsus and Antiphaus, after the manner of Bouhours and Dryden on the Drama, in which its beauties and blemishes were minutely considered. The candour, the politeness, the true taste, and judgment, with which this criticism was conducted, were so very acceptable and pleasing to Pope, that he immediately courted the acquaintance of the ingenious Author, who, notwithstanding Dr. Johnson's invidious assertion, was an excellent scholar, and earnestly invited him to spend some time with him at Twickenham; and I have now before me a Letter which Spence wrote from thence, to his intimate friend Mr. Pitt, the translator of Vida and Virgil, describing to him the uncommonly kind and friendly manner in which he was received and treated. By the favour of Dr. Lowth, the late excellent Bishop of London, I have seen a copy of this Essay on the Odyssey, with marginal observations written in Pope's own hand, and generally acknowledging the justness of Spence's observations; and a few instances pleading, humorously enough, that some favourite lines might be spared. I speak from experience, when I say, that I know no critical treatise better calculated to form the taste of young men of genius, than this Essay on the Odyssey. And lest it should be thought that this opinion arise from my partiality to a friend with whom I lived so many years in the happiest intimacy; I will add, that this also was the opinion of three persons, from whose judgment there can be no appeal, Dr. Akenside, Bishop Lowth, and Mr. James Harris.