1816 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Cottle

John Neal, in "Cottle's Effusions" The Portico [Baltimore] 2 (December 1816) 494-96.



It is hardly possible to fathom the mysterious operations of vanity and selflove; and therefore, I shall not attempt to divine, how Mr. Cottle, (I must be pardoned for again smiling at the name,) should have become possessed of the evil impression that he was a poet! Although I cannot explain so singular a delusion, (singular in its nature, but not in its occurrence,) I may innocently express my wonder at the grossness of his folly, though I should be supposed to wonder in the simplicity of ignorance. No preceding age affords such abundant proof of literary decline as the present; for in no anteriour era, is there to be found so vast a crowd of pseudo-poets, all attaining to such complete popularity. There was once a time, and I do not speak of it in the customary tone of querulous discontent, when the dulness of a writer would operate to the depression of his fame, as well as his purse; and when poverty, if not shame, would drive him back to his natural obscurity. That time has unhappily gone by; the taste of the existing generation has been essentially defiled; and a herd of writers have been warmed into life and vigour, by the beams of patronage and approbation, who were every way unworthy of the countenance that cheered and encouraged them in the career of folly. When an author throws into circulation a series of writing of a similar cast, I view it as a necessary inference that he has been adequately supported; for he never would run a vain career of expense, that must otherwise terminate in speedy ruin, and indelible obloquy.

One of the chief causes of this depravity of taste, I consider the desire of novelty, in the diction and imagery employed by the writer. A certain class of words, and the most beautiful images that nature and art afford, have long since been appropriated to the use of the poet, and sanctioned by the perfection of their application, through the genius of the sublimest bards. Certain figures, phraseology, and arrangement of words, have also been thus made sacred by the smiles of fancy. Thus, "the portals of the East," "the chariot of day," with a thousand other figures, have been applied to express poetically, the rising of the sun, when conjoined with other words. This mode of expression, has in regard to every appearance of nature, been exhausted; you may invent new ones, but they will not be apposite or beautiful; they will be far-fetched, quaint, feeble, dissimilar, and deformed. A poet of genius will never seek the latter, and will never blush to use the former, for which he is more to be commended than censured. It is this ridiculous attempt at complete novelty, which has betrayed Mr. Cottle into such nonsense and folly; though had he avoided this, he could not have commanded admiration and applause, from a conception so feeble, and a fancy so lame, barren, and limited.

Mr. Cottle, therefore, in my estimation, can never "roll his eye-balls oppressed by inspirations" of the Muse, to make use of one of his new-invented expressions. He never can reap ought but disgrace and derision, in this chosen field of superiour minds; this usefulness of errour only can he attain to — he may produce examples of nonsense, that will prove lessons of perfection to others, by shunning his defects: and it was for this purpose only, that I have been induced to point out his blemishes of style, without adverting to those of his plot and characters, which are easier to be avoided, and are rarely adopted for imitation.