1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hayley

Leigh Hunt, in Feast of the Poets (1814) 48-51n.



There is something not inelegant or unfanciful in the conduct of Mr. Hayley's Triumphs of Temper, and the moral is of that useful and desirable description, which from its domestic familiarity is too apt to be overlooked, or to be thought incapable of embellishment: — but in this as in all his other writings, there is so much talking by rote, so many gratuitous metaphors, so many epithets to fill up and rhymes to fit in, and such a mawkish languor of versification, with every now and then a ridiculous hurrying for a line or so, that nothing can be more palling or tiresome. The worst part of Mr. Hayley is that smooth-tongued and overwrought complimentary style, in addressing and speaking of others, which, whether in conversation or writing, has always the ill-fortune, to say the least of it, of being suspected as to sincerity. His best part, as has been justly observed, is his Annotation. The notes to his poems are amusing and full of a graceful scholarship; and two things must be remembered to his honour, — first, that although he had not genius enough to revive the taste in his poetry, he has been the quickest of out late writers to point out the great superiority of the Italian school over the French; and second, that he has been among the first, and the most ardent of them all, in hailing the dawn of our native painting. Indeed, with the singular exception of Milton, who had visited Italy, and who was such a painter himself, it is to be remembered to the honour of all our poets, great and small, that they have shewn a just anxiety for the appearance of the sister art,

And felt a brother's longing to embrace
At the least glimpse of her resplendent face.

It would appear, from some specimens in his notes, that Mr. Hayley would have cut a more advantageous figure as a translator than as an original poet. I do not say he would have been equal to great works; for a translator, to keep any thing like a pace with his original, should have at least a portion of his original spirit; but as Mr. Hayley is not destitute of the poet, the thoughts of another might have invigorated him; and he would at any rate have been superior to those mere rhymers,— such men as Hoole, for instance, — who without the smallest pretensions to poetry in their own persons, think themselves qualified to translate epics. In the notes to his Essays on Epic Poetry, there is a pleasing analysis, with occasional versions of twenty or thirty lines, of the Araucana of Alonzo d'Ercilla, and in the same place is a translation of the three first Cantos of Dante, which if far beneath the majestic simplicity of the original, is at least, for spirit as well as closeness, much above the mouthing nonentities which have been palmed upon us of late years for that wonderful poet.