1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Jackson Pratt

Anonymous, in "Mr. Pratt" Scourge and Satirist 1 (March 1811) 219-20.



If Mr. Pratt be disposed to ask us, why we have selected him in particular as a sacrifice to the insulted dignity of criticism, we shall briefly answer, because his professions are magnificent, and his trespasses on our patience as frequent as they are intolerable. The offences too of which he has been guilty are becoming more prevalent from day to day, and it is just that the most exemplary punishment should be inflicted on the most notorious and incorrigible delinquent. To degrade the noble manliness of Englishmen; to convert us into a nation of whimpering hypocrites and blubbering drivellers is impossible; but if Mr. Pratt and his coadjutors cannot deprave the feelings of our hearts, they may succeed in vitiating our literary taste. Of all cants the cant of sentimentality is the most abominable: it is not less distinct form the genuine language of benevolence than the cravings of fanaticism from the effusions of rational piety: and while it shocks the feelings of the virtuous it disgusts the perceptions of the literary.

His earlier productions gave promise of excellencies that he has not since employed — the Quixotism of their author was ascribed to the ardor of inexperience, and the disproportion between his language and his subject, to the exuberance of youthful feeling, unchastened by the taste or judgment that would probably distinguish the productions of maturer age. His bombast was therefore forgiven, while his pathos was admired. The Pupil of Pleasure contained many passages of genuine sensibility, and his poem on Sympathy was not totally destitute of natural expression, or poetical beauty. But as he advanced in his career, it was discovered that what had been mistaken for juvenile enthusiasm, was nothing better than deliberate affectation: the public became tired of his appeals to humanity, and his sonnets to benevolence; even the introduction of the Howards and the Lettsoms was so frequent as to excite suspicion that his motives were not perfectly conscientious, and the avidity with which he seized the opportunity afforded him in the year 1800, of bewailing the miseries of the poor, made it more than probable that philanthropy was his "trade." Nor were the prejudices that gradually accumulated against him at all weakened or removed by the evidence of his lighter and less laboured effusions.