1851 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hayley

David Macbeth Moir, in Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 11-12.



The popularity of Hayley in an age so artificial and so pragmatical as that wherein he flourished — an age of minuets, and hoops, and pomatum, and powdered queus, and purple velvet doublets, and flesh-coloured silk stockings — is not much to be wondered at, when we consider the subjects on which he wrote, and the real graces of his style. Such poetry was relished, because it was called forth by the exigencies and adapted to the taste of the particular time in which it was written. It was a reflection of existing modes and habits of thought; and it must be allowed that his mastery over versification was of no common order. True it is that his mawkish or overstrained sentiment might at times expose him to ridicule; but the praise he received from Cowper is a strong proof of the influence which his writings at that time exercised over society. That power and that popularity have now utterly passed away, for he was deficient in truth and nature; his house was built on the sand; and, except the case of Churchill, it would be difficult to point out another whose reputation had assumed so much the aspect of a fixed star, and yet only proved the comet of a season.