With the warm recommendation of the poems of Della Crusca, in your ingenious paper the Lady's Librarian, I was much delighted. — But whatever tribute may be due to that elegant author, I presume, Sir, from the many excellent pieces that have enriched your pleasing miscellany from the pen of W. Hamilton Reid, that you will permit a few remarks, illustrative of the distinguished abilities of that truly eccentric character. Taste alone, Sir, is too often mistaken for genius; genteel habits of life, reading, and an ordinary capacity, may produce a writer merely elegant; but all these without the inventive faculty, a proper use of personification and glowing imagery, will fall very far short of that standard of excellence to which it is plain this poet of nature, without assistance of art, very rapidly arrived to. Versatility is another eminent trait of poetic excellence; and from the variety of subjects occupied by Dryden, some French critics have placed him at the head of English poetry. A very amiable young lady, Sir, who had preserved all that Reid has published in the fugitive prints, has satisfied me that he has a much greater variety than even the most eminent of those who lately, from similar situations, have been raised to independence. The design of his writings, Sir, is equally laudable with the execution of them; nothing low, trivial, or indelicate. — He seems to want nothing but culture, and an extension of reading, &c. to arrive at a pitch of high excellence. He is, however, full of sense, nervous, and, considering his situation, surprisingly harmonious. Whatever partiality may be imputed to me, Sir, I think the beautiful, I may say sublime, description of Morn, Noon, &c. &c. in your Magazine for May last, by this writer, will alone justify more than I have asserted. His personification of the Genius of Morning, I must say, I have never seen equalled; but the action of the Genius is what I particularly allude to; — he is represented as painting the orient—
What vivid tints of sky-empurpled gold
O'er cloud-topt hills and waving woods he throws!
Whilst vales and lawns, that various scenes unfold,
In smiles confess him "bright'ning as he goes."
But perhaps, Sir, upon the whole, a state of refinement may be most inimical to the burning powers of unlettered genius. It is rightly observed in the English Review for January 1788, that Cowley, Waller, Gay, and some parts of Dryden, are now frequently exceeded in the newspaper; and how far our poet's effusions have contributed to this observation, I leave others to determine. It may be, then, unfortunate for Reid, that his taste is similar with that of the old school, viz. all the fire and animation of Spencer, the father of English poetry, and of Milton in his lesser works. Pope, Goldsmith, Johnson, &c. &c. form a very different order in poetry; these are all harmony and elegance, and being mostly concerned about the drapery of their verses, seldom or never rise to that sublimity and grandeur that is so eminent in the first class, or the old school. Goldsmith, Sir, you know, was a professed enemy to lyrical composition; and Johnson's critiques on the odes of Gray disgrace his memory. And I presume, Sir, that nothing supports the character of the poetry of the Wartons and the Rev. Mr. Mason more than their rank in life, as it is evident that the old school, to which they belong, is not upon the whole the prevailing taste of the day. It was with the greatest satisfaction, Sir, and credit to your urbanity, that from a notice in your Magazine for December last, I understood that Reid's poems were publishing by subscription — I hastened with a friend to contribute to so desirable an undertaking. A respectable silversmith (where subscriptions are received by the author) near Smithfield, and for whom the author has worked nine years, gave us such a character of the man as gratified our expectations; but we were sorry to find, that a laborious business did not furnish him with employ for above three fourths of the year: and that though his list of subscribers was dignified with the name of R. B. Sheridan, and others of consequence and credit, yet that the number is a present too small to afford that return his labours deserve. In all probability, Sir, a series of uneasy circumstances may have given such an amiably plaintive turn to some of his elegiac strains. — There is something so inexpressibly pathetic in the following stanzas, that they must of necessity powerfully affect a reader of true taste. — Perhaps, as they have not appeared in your much-read miscellany, they may not be ungrateful to your fair readers.
Ah me! How oft in summer's bridal bloom,
From Flora's hand I've deck'd my faded brow,
And breath'd soft slumbers in the lap of noon,
Indulging dreams that leave me still in woe.
And visions wild, of fair poetic meed,
While danc'd the wood-nymphs to my warbled strains:
But fancy faints, and hopes illusive bleed,
For rigid Eurus sweeps the desart plains,
Instead of music, now a murm'ring sound
Is heard, the trees and leafless groves among;
No sportive echoes wanton all around,
Each stream despondent seems to glide along.
My shell untun'd, but mocks the sawllow's tongue,
The chatt'ring crane, or widow'd turtle's voice—
Adieu — my harp on mournful willows hung,
Is mute, till Phoebus bids the world rejoice.
W. H. R.
Now, Sir, not doubting but that an enlightened public, upon better acquaintance with this natural poet, (which can only be by seeing his effusions in a collected state) will supply every defect, I am, Sir,
Your constant Reader, and an Admirer of Genius.
Clapton, Feb. 6, 1788.