1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Warton

Robert Southey to G. C. Bedford, 15 December 1822; Selections from the Letters, ed. Warter (1856) 3:357.



If we judge of him by the character of the majority of his pieces, I believe that fifty out of sixty of them are such, that we should not be anxious to give them a second perusal. From that proportion of his works, I conceive that an unprejudiced reader would pronounce him a florid, unaffecting describer, whose images are plentifully scattered, but without selection or relief. To confine our view, however, to some seven or eight of his happier pieces, we shall find, in these, a considerable degree of graphic power, of fancy, and animation. His Verses to Sir Joshua Reynolds are splendid and spirited. There is also a softness and sweetness in his ode entitled The Hamlet, which is the more welcome, for being rare in his productions; and his Crusade, and Grave of Arthur, have a genuine air of martial and minstrel enthusiasm. Those pieces exhibit, to the best advantage, the most striking feature of his poetical character, which was a fondness for the recollections of chivalry, and a minute intimacy of imagination with its gorgeous residences, and imposing spectacles. The spirit of chivalry, he may indeed be said, to have revived in the poetry of modern times. His memory was richly stored with all the materials for description that can be got from books: and he seems not to have been without an original enthusiasm for those objects which excite strong associations of regard and wonder. Whether he would have ever looked with interest on a shepherd's cottage, if he had not found it described by Virgil or Theocritus, may be fairly doubted; but objects of terror, splendour and magnificence, are evidently congenial to his fancy. He is very impressive in sketching the appearance of an ancient Gothic castle, in the following lines:

High o'er the trackless heath, at midnight seen,
No more the windows, ranged in long array,
(Where the tall shaft and fretted nook between
Thick ivy twines) the taper'd rites betray.

Dibdin wrote to me the other day, asking "if I should like to continue Warton's History of Poetry, which is about to be re-edited with laborious corrections and notes!" My answer expressed a willingness to hear what the bookseller might have to propose. If his terms should be as they ought to be, Gifford will see very little of my work. But I must be largely paid, or they must look to some other quarter.