1802 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Henry John Todd

Anna Seward to Henry John Todd, 11 June 1802; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 6:27-28.



Shall you be able, in your present undertaking, to account to us for the strange irrelevant title Spencer gave to his principal poem? Who would not expect from that title much poetic sport with the Gothic mythology, demonized by the elder bards of Caledonia, sylphized by Shakespeare, and the British poets; who, as Mr. Scott, in his late volumes of ancient Scotch poetry, entitled The Minstrelsy of the Border, observes, first civilized, polished, and rendered benevolent the fairy tribe. But the little gentlefolk have no place in Spencer, except on his title-page.

You, who are so deeply impressed by the manly energies of Milton's sonnets, will not, I think, claim the meed of excellence for Spencer's, so full of poetic foppery, and unimpassioned love, labouring and toiling beneath amorous pretences.

If Cowley loses, as he is said to have lost, the true poetic spirit in the mazes of metaphysic wit, what can be claimed, as fine poetry, for the sonnets of Spencer? However, in his Fairy-Queen you will find ample room for that discriminating eulogy which is so much your talent, the result of sensibility, benevolence, learning, and taste.