1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

Samuel Egerton Brydges, in "On the Traits and Concomitants of Poetical Genius" Censura Literaria 5 (1807) 405-07



It cannot be denied that this excessive sensibility is a blessing or a curse according to its direction. But the good and evil are so nicely and imperceptibly intermixed, that rash or at least very bold is the hand, that will venture to attempt the separation of them, without fearing to destroy the good and the evil together.

Of our old poets the minuter shades of character have not been preserved. Of those of our days, of most of whom the curiosity of modern literature has drawn forth a more familiar and private account, all the existing memorials furnish ample demonstration of the truth of my remarks. I have learned from several who knew him intimately, that the sensibility of Gray was even morbid; and often very fastidious, and troublesome to his friends. He seemed frequently overwhelmed by the ordinary intercourse, and ordinary affairs of life. Coarse manners, and vulgar or unrefined sentiments overset him; and it is probable that the keenness of his sensations embittered the evils of his frame, and aggravated the hereditary gout which terminated his life at a middle age. He perhaps gave his feelings too little vent through the channels of composition, and brooded in too much indolence over the unarrested workings of his mind.

The sensibility of Rousseau was indulged to a selfish and vicious excess. But still it would be a narrow and despicable prejudice to deny, that it exhibited in its ebullitions a high degree of genius. Burke, flaming with resentment at the political evils produced by this eloquent writer's delusive lights, has drawn a just but most severe character of him. Yet Burke himself, whose radiant mind was illuminated by all the rich colours of the rainbow, had nerves tremulous at every point with incontrolable irritability.

There are many, who require to be convinced of these important truths; who ought to be shamed out of their mean censures of the singularities or the weaknesses of genius; and who should learn, if they draw comfort, to suppress their triumph, at the mingled qualities of the most exalted of human beings!