1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Anonymous, in "Hogg's Works" North American Review [Boston] 9 (June 1819) 15-16.



On the whole our opinion of Mr. Hogg as a poet is, that he has a decided claim to be called so, and that his poetry is of a high class: but we do not think him a great poet. When he succeeds, it is in a difficult and dangerous kind of writing; but his failures are frequent and great. His defects are not all owing to his education, to which, on the contrary, we think he is indebted for the greater part of his beauties. He exhibits no mark of mind that would have been much improved by greater means of improvement; for he has given himself education enough for the indulgence of a visionary imagination, which seems his chief distinction. He has taste and delicacy, but he wants strength and consistency. His range of imagination is very limited and his images often repeated. Yet there is something wild and light in his fancies that excites, though it does not gratify us long; he seems to be weary of dull reality, and often has glimpses of something brighter and better which he cannot grasp. His favourite description, which occurs in each of his poems and is repeated in one, is that of a being, with human feelings and a little more than human power, looking from heaven upon earth, lingering between the glory of the one and the beauty of the other — tracing the winding of the streams and the shadow of the woods — linked to earth by affection and raised above it by destiny. And these are his best efforts; for mere reality with him is cold and uninteresting, yet when he entirely looses sight of it he becomes inconsistent and extravagant. Indeed his genius seems never quite on earth, and never much above it; but sports, like his own fairies, in the dim and shadowy interval. We do not expect much from him in future, though what he has done is valuable; for he had little poetry but upon one subject, and having employed that in the Pilgrims of the Sun, it cannot be repeated with advantage. It has almost always been the fortune of authors who have come forward as Mr. Hogg had done, to lose their popularity, because they gained it too cheaply; and we cannot anticipate a better fate for him. Indeed his last poem is a sad falling off, and his first novel, of which we are now to give some account, promises very little.