1776 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Montagu

Anonymous, "Particulars relating to Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Barbauld" Westminster Magazine 4 (June 1776) 284.



Mrs. Montagu, with a very pleasing person, a liberal mind, a benevolent heart, and a large fortune, appears, in consequence of her combined advantage, in a great variety of attractive situations. In her life, as well as in her writings, the solidity of her understanding and the elegance of her taste are equally conspicuous:

By Fortune follow'd, and by Virtue led,
MRS. CARTER.

She is also

With wit well-natur'd, and with books well bred.
POPE.

With a mind richly cultivated and highly polished, Mrs. Montagu has favoured the Public with compositions which are truly classical, and which may be frequently read with renewed satisfaction. — The Three Dialogues of the Dead written by her, and published by the late Lord Lyttelton at the end of his own, abound with good sense, sprightly sentiment, and sound morality. The first of these is between Cadmus and Hercules, and is calculated to set forth the use and excellence of learning. The next, between Mercury and a modern fine Lady, is a pleasant ridicule on the trifling, dissipated manner in which our modish fair ones misspend their time. The last, between Plutarch, Charon, and a modern Bookseller, is a lively satire on the literary taste of the present age, which, to the great disgrace of letters, delights in fabulous, obscene, and immoral romances.

These Dialogues certainly discover the fair Writer's judgment and taste: but they both appear "dans tout leur jour," in her Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare, compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets; with some Remarks upon the Misrepresentations of M. de Voltaire. — The merits of this Essay are not, however, confined to a mere defence of Shakespeare, or to observations on Voltaire's criticisms. It abounds with curious disquisitions, and will undoubtedly hold a high rank among the most classical pieces of the same nature in the English language. The parallel drawn between the conduct of the two Poets, in respect to the Ghost of Darius, in the Perseus of Eschylus, and that of Hamlet, as well as the comparisons made between Shakespeare and the French Dramatic Writers, are attended with a great number of the most judicious and beautiful observations. The charge against Voltaire of misrepresentations, of not understanding the English language, and of his being guilty of the greatest absurdities in his translation of the first act of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, are abundantly proved.