1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Dyer

John Aikin, in Letters to a Young Lady (1806) 155-56.



His Grongar Hill is perhaps the most pleasing piece in the language, of those which aim at local description. No attempt, for the most part, is less successful, than that of imparting by words, distinct ideas of particular scenes in nature. The great features of wood, water, rock, mountain and plain, may be brought before the imagination, but it groups and figures them according to models already impressed on the memory, and the picture it forms with these materials has a very faint resemblance of the reality. Dyer has judiciously attempted no more than to sketch such a prospect as may be conceived to be in view from almost any elevated summit in a picturesque country; and he has chiefly dwelt on circumstances, such as those on ascending a steep and lofty hill, in the following lines:

Still the prospect wider spreads,
Adds a thousand woods and meads,
Still it widens, widens still,
And sinks the newly risen hill.
Now I gain the mountain's brow,
What a prospect lies below! &c.

It is not necessary to have climbed Grongar hill, to feel the descriptive beauty of such a passage, or of most of the subsequent imagery, which consists of objects common to all similar occasions. In like manner, his moral reflections on the ruined castle which forms a distinguished object in the scene, are universally applicable; as well as those on the course of the rivers, and of the optical delusions produced by distance. The facility with which the reader enters into the ideas, sensible and intellectual, of this piece has, doubtless, been a principal cause of its popularity; to which, its familiar style and measure, and its moderate length, have further contributed.