1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

John Aikin, in Letters to a Young Lady (1806) 279-80.



The Minstrel of the former, his principal performance, is a fancy-piece, the theme of which is the supposed birth and education of a poet. The name of Minstrel is not very happily applied; since the character described widely differs from that musical songster of a rude age; nor can we find any "Gothic days" which suit the circumstances of the tale. In fact, the author's plan is crude and incongruous; and the chief value of his performance consists in description and sentiments addressed to the feelings of all who have a perception of natural and moral beauty, apart from any particular appropriation. There is, however, something very pleasing in the portrait of Edwin, who was "no vulgar boy," but is represented as marked from his cradle with those dispositions and propensities which were to be the foundation of his future destiny. I believe it would be difficult in real biography to trace any such early inclinations of a genius exclusively fitted for poetry; nor do I imagine that an exquisite sensibility to the sublime and beautiful of nature is ever to be found in minds which have not been opened by a degree of culture. Yet there is a seeming probability in the contrary supposition, which may very well serve the purpose of fiction, and it leads to some beautiful description of natural scenery.