1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens

Samuel Egerton Brydges, in "Memoirs of Dr. William Bagshaw Stevens" Gentleman's Magazine 71 (February 1801) 108.



Stevens, though from the time of his first publication he seems to have withdrawn all regular courtship or opinion of the Muse, could not forbear, during every subsequent period of his life, to pay her occasional homage and offerings. But he seemed too often to do it by stealth, and to be ashamed of the indulgence. He appeared not to love to own his native propensities, and too often in company to range himself on the side of the stupid and the sensual, and to join in the sneer, and the laugh against the unsolid abstractions of intellectual pleasures. This seemed to me a weakness, but not very unlike what was possessed by greater men, who had not the same excuses for it. Congreve and Gray could not endure to be noticed as authors, but as gentlemen who wrote for their amusement. So Stevens, when he took the part of what is triumphantly called practical sense, against what is termed in derision book-learning, deserted a higher character, to which he had considerable pretensions, for one which all his natural endowments and early acquisitions ill-qualified him for, and which, had it really belonged to him, would have degraded him in the opinion of all reflecting minds. He was on the first approach shy, reserved, and awkward; but on more familiar acquaintance became frank and undisguised; yet could never have attained the ease and flexibility of a man of the world.

He was perhaps from nature, or early disgust, or the abstracted occupations of his own mind, too indifferent to the good opinions of those for whom he had no particular friendship; and, therefore, did not take sufficient pains to counteract the censures of that neglect which was probably the cause of the decay of his school. But his temper was good, his heart was benevolent; he was a grateful and affectionate son, a kind brother, and unfeignedly beloved by his friends. In whatever unelevated sentiments against the better impulses of his heart disappointment might induce him to indulge, he was ingenuous and undisguised; so that they appeared venial affectations, rather than inherent defects.