1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Merry

Robert Southey, in "Sayers's Works" Quarterly Review 35 (1827) 197-98.



Merry was the most remarkable for the success and brevity of his career. Other reputations have been as sudden, and as short-lived; but we can I call to mind none which was so unaccountable, and which has so completely passed away. Certain it is, that by far the greater part of our readers will have no other knowledge of him or his name than what they may have learnt from the Baviad and Maeviad. One might suspect, at first, that his poems had been written as an experiment upon what Wilkes called the non-sense of the English public, for they are "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing;" he wrote to the ear, and to the ear only; and if their real origin could now be known, it would most probably be found that he was led into this rhapsodical and senseless vein, by emulating the effusions of the Italian "improvvisatori" in a language which requires for its poetry something more than rhythm and rhymes. He imposed, for awhile, both upon himself and others, to a most extraordinary degree. Lady-poets and gentlemen-poets out of number became his imitators; for when the thing had once been done, it was so easy, that they all could do it. They raved, and ranted, and languished with him, in the newspapers; the journal in which their effusions appeared puffed them in a style as novel as their own, and helped the readers to admire them, by bringing the different shades of beauty into notice in italics and capitals of various degrees. Everybody read them, because in London they were laid on the breakfast-table in the morning papers; and the provincial editors copied them, because of their celebrity. They were "town-made," and their reputation, therefore, was held in the country to be as authentic as the news. There was something, too, of mystery which aided this. Della Crusca and Rosa Matilda were the Great Unknown male and female, made more conspicuous by the number of little unknowns who imitated them; and the verses which were thus produced were collected into volumes of more beautiful typography than the public had then been accustomed to see: for Bell succeeded in establishing a fashion for fine printing, in which Baskerville had failed. One satire crushed the whole brood.