1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Anonymous, in "On the Genius of Hogg" Literary Speculum 2 (December 1822) 433.



The annals of literature afford numerous examples of uneducated persons, placed in the humblest grades of life, overcoming, by the force of genius, the accidents of birth and fortune; successfully "building the lofty rhyme," and acquiring the grateful recollections of posterity. The most depressing circumstances of poverty and servitude have not been sufficient to prevent the manifestation of intellectual superiority, and though many a "village Milton" may have gone to his grave unhonoured, there are encouraging instances of mental triumphs, achieved by beings whose original situation in the map of existence seemed to interpose an impenetrable bar to the exercise of the loftier endowments of our nature. There is every reason to suppose, that Shakespeare was comparatively illiterate, that he knew no language but his own, and that the education and habits of his early life were very unlikely to have elicited his imaginative faculties; yet to whom, among the Titans of our literary Olympus, can we point, as surpassing the bard of Avon? Chatterton and Dermody, those unfortunate victims of morbidly sensitive feelings, might, had their days been lengthened, have rivalled the noblest of our authors; and Burns, the inspired ploughman, in whose heart-stirring poetry the virtue and loveliness of his country made immortal, may fearlessly challenge comparison with the most gifted votaries of the muse. Bloomfield, the unaffected, unostentatious poet of nature, does not yield to Thomson in vividness or fidelity of description; and he must be incapable of appreciating poetical excellence, who, after perusing the Queen's Wake, denies the meed of genius to the Ettrick Shepherd. There is nothing remarkable or praiseworthy in the mere stringing of rhymes; the veriest coxcomb of eighteen can produce a sonnet "made to his mistress's eyebrow," and the most unintellectual lady, that ever fondled a lapdog, may glory in unreadable quires of verse; but it is for more sterling productions, for compositions that continually evince a glowing fancy and an amiable heart, that the lovers of poetry are indebted to James Hogg.