1788 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Whitehead

William Mason, in Memoir, Whitehead, Poems (1788) 3:10-12.



His prize-verses, already mentioned, have but little merit, if we deduct from them that of mere easy versification, which he seems to have acquired by sedulously imitating Mr. Pope's manner. Neither his fancy nor judgment appear to have risen, in any degree, equal to what, in common progress, might be expected from a mind, which, a very few years after, exhibited both these qualities so strikingly. His efforts at wit also were now equally feeble; and, on the whole, I am led to wonder that his school-master should speak of any of his productions with rapture; for among the many pieces written at that period, which I have perused, I find only one [Vision of Solomon] that seems to indicate the future poet.

This, however, I think, would not have been the case, had he taken the versification of Spenser, Fairfax, Milton, and poets similar to them for his model, rather than the close and condensed couplets of Pope; for, in that way of writing, his fancy would have developed itself earlier, and, perhaps, have obtained greater strength and powers of exertion. But, though he had read Spenser in his childhood with avidity, and was fully capable, as I shall show presently, of catching his manner, yet the fashion of the time led him to exercise himself in that mode of versification which was then (almost exclusively of all others) esteemed the best: for those writers which may be called of the Italian school, were in no request, as Mr. T. Warton has well observed in the very judicious preface to his late edition of the Juvenile Poems of Milton.