1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir James Bland Burges

Anna Seward to Edward Jerningham, 23 February 1801; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 5:357-58.



Thank you for mentioning the new poetic literature. I have never seen any of Sir J. B. Burgess's verse. You tell me his epic poem has just emerged, and you say — "It is the 'ton' to commend it, though nobody reads it, because it is written in the Spenceric stanza." There is no true taste in such idle fastidiousness. It has, in the present instance, been caught from the prejudiced pages of Johnson's Lives. I recollect that, in them, the Goliah lays a broad heavy paw upon that form of verse. Infinite mischief is done to science of every sort, by the often irrational dogmas of people of high ability.

One of the most justly admired of our modern poems, the Minstrel, is written in the Spenceric stanza, which, without narrative, can interest, and, without exciting the passions, can charm. No inevitable weariness, surely attaches to an order of verse, through which such triumph has been attained. The Minstrel is certainly not of epic length; yet it is seldom that we read, at one sitting, more lines of an epic poem than are contained in the two books of the Minstrel. That, with all its genius and fancy, the Fairy Queen tires our attention is certain; but it is of the eternal allegories, not of the measure, that we are weary.

Oberon [by William Sotheby] is written in that measure, and, though a translation, a sort of epic, has had very general reading, and may boast an everybody against Sir J. B. Burgess's nobody — but perhaps you will slily say, the voluptuous descriptions made the everybody for Oberon.