1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Hole

Robert Southey, "Hole's Arthur" Omniana (1812) 1:83-85.



It is said in a late number of the Critical Review, that Mr. Hole's Arthur "failed of success, because published at the same time with the Joans of Arc, Alfreds and Coeur de Lions, which disgusted the world with the very name of Epic." Arthur, or the Northern Enchantment, was published in 1789, Joan of Arc in 1796, the Alfreds and Coeur de Lion in 1800. The failure of Mr. Hole's poem, therefore, is not attributed to the true cause; and it cannot be necessary to point out the motive which induced the critic to assign a false one.

Mr. Hole's Arthur failed of success because it did not deserve it. The poem had fair play: it appeared before reviews were converted into tools of party, and before the butchers' phrase, "cutting up" was supposed to be synonymous with criticizing. The journals gave it at least as much praise as it deserved, and it failed in spite of them, as the Epigoniad had done before it. The subject was not ill chosen (for that we have the authority of Dryden;) but it was ill handled, so ill handled, indeed, that all the advantages which it really possesses, were made of no avail. There is no name with which a chivalrous or a poetical mind associates more delightful recollections than with the name of Arthur; but it is with the Arthur of the Round Table, and of Spenser; for there are enough indications in the Faery Queen, that if that wonderful poem had been completed, the hero would have been sufficiently identified with the Arthur of Romance. Mr. Hole's hero bears no more resemblance to him than to Arthur O'Bradley; and the reader, when he discovers this, feels as if he had met an old friend with a new face.

The world has, perhaps, been "disgusted with the very name of epic." Mr. Hole's poem, however, could not have suffered from that disgust, because it was published ten years before the swarm of epics appeared; and I believe it will be thought probable that this swarm was occasioned by the success of Joan of Arc, notwithstanding the great and numerous defects of that poem, defects which have been weeded out in each successive edition, though they never can be totally removed.