1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Isaac D'Israeli

Allan Cunningham, in "Biographical and Critical History of the Literature of the last Fifty Years" The Athenaeum (14 December 1833) 851.



In placing ISAAC D'ISRAELI among historians, I know not that I am right; he is, however, a great writer of some kind, and all his productions are of a historic character. He is one of the most learned, intelligent, lively, and agreeable authors of our era; he has composed a series of works, which, while they shed abundance of light on the character and condition of literary men, and show us the state of genius in this land, have all the attractions for general readers of the best romances. He has a quick eye for finding rich materials in barren places; he will detect an anecdote, which gives the key to some mysterious matter in literature, in the crumpled corner of a mildewed parchment; or, from a pencil note on the margin of some forgotten book, supply the world with matter for a month's talk, on the folly or the wisdom of men of genius. No one need think of writing the lives our our poets and historians, without borrowing light from his pages; and whoever continues Warton, will find that D'Israeli has prepared the way. His Commentaries on the Life and Reign of Charles the First, exhibit all the research, the learning, and sometimes more than the animation of his earlier works. That he has executed this very difficult task in the spirit of philosophy and candour, has been questioned by some, and, indeed, it could not be well otherwise. There are men in our land, who never look on Charles otherwise than as an odious and perjured tyrant, and on those who shed his blood, as the upright and the pure. The Presbyterians of his time seem to have had the truest notion of things; they did not desire to destroy, nor even dethrone Charles; their object was to establish a constitution restraining both king and people within the bounds of moderation and justice; but this suited neither the Cavaliers nor the Independents. I see it intimated, that D'Israeli has the History of British Literature in contemplation; he cannot do a more acceptable service to the republic of letters, than write it.