1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Whitehead

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 11:892-93.



The first pieces he published, were verses on public occasions, the Marriage of the Prince of Wales, in 1736, and the birth of his son, the present king, 1738, inserted in the Cambridge Gratulations. They little excel the prize-verses he wrote at school, which have but little merit, if we deduct from them that of mere easy versification, which he seems to have acquired by sedulously imitating 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. Among the many pieces written at that early period, the Vision of Solomon is the only one that seems to indicate the future poet.

This, perhaps, 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 appears by the Vision of Solomon, of catching his manner; yet the fashion of the time led him to exercise himself in that mode of composition, which was then esteemed the best. He began to write verses first before the school of Milton rose in emulation of the school of Pope, and had even become an author before Collins, Akenside, Gray, Warton, Mason, and some others, had diffused just ideas of a more perfect species of poetry, by substituting fiction and fancy, picturesque description and romantic imagery, for wit and rhyme, sentiment and satire, polished numbers, sparkling couplets, and pointed periods.