1912 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Ellis

Oliver Elton, in Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 1:308.



George Ellis had begun with his free cheerful "contes," the Poetical Tales of Sir Gregory Gander; joined the makers of the Rolliad and Probationary Odes; changed his views, accepted Pitt, whom he had attacked, and helped Canning and Frere with The Anti-Jacobin. He was first of all a satirist; but concurrently a mediaevalist — no bad combination. In 1790 he produced Specimens of the Early English Poets, and in 1805 the more noteworthy Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, in which the English counterparts of the Breton lays, as well as Amis, and Guy, and Bevis, and many more were made known not only to scholars but to "gentle readers." The Specimens are a mixture of dissertation, quotation, and half-humorous summary. Ellis faces romance a little in the spirit of Sir Thopas, but his feeling for its beauty pierces through his gentlemanly sardonic style. The book helps to explain the impulse that encouraged Scott to pass from the ballad to the lay.