1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Vicesimus Knox

Nathan Drake, in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 2:364-66.



ESSAYS, MORAL AND LITERARY. These essays, the well-known production of the Rev. Vicesimus Knox, D. D. first appeared anonymously in the year 1777, in a small volume octavo, and, meeting with a favourable reception, were soon republished with the addition of a second volume, and with the affixture of the author's name. In the preface to the third edition, the origin of the work is thus detailed. "Many of the papers in the first edition of the first volume were written at College as voluntary exercises, for the sake of improvement. They had all of them an undoubted right to the epithet juvenile. Most of them were composed before he had taken his Batchelor's degree at the university. When they had accumulated to a number sufficient to make a volume, he deliberated whether he should commit them to the flames, or send them up to London as an adventure, without a name. Perhaps it was vanity, perhaps it was rashness, and perhaps a laudable motive, which determined him to transmit them as a gratuitous present to a Publisher. They were sent anonymously from Oxford to London, were published anonymously, nor did the Publisher know either the writer's name or person during several months subsequent to the publication. Praise was however bestowed upon them from various and respectable quarters; and praise, operating like the warm sunshine on the ice, gradually relaxed his resolutions of concealment."

Few productions have been more popular, or more deservedly so, than these instructive essays; they have passed through sixteen editions, occupying two volumes; until the last edition, which is divided into three, and contains one hundred and seventy-five papers, being four less than were included in the immediately preceding impression.

The subjects on which Dr. Knox has expatiated in these volumes, are numerous and well chosen; and they uniformly possess a direct tendency either to improve the head or amend the heart. The style is elegant and perspicuous, occasionally assuming the high tone and structure of the Johnsonian period.

To persons of every description, but especially to young persons, the essays of our author are invaluable; their first praise is, that they recommend, in a most fascinating manner, all that is good and great; and secondly, they are in a high degree calculated to form the taste, and to excite a spirit of literary enthusiasm.