1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Southey

George Gilfillan, in Gallery of Literary Portraits (1845) 423-24.



As an author, he was at once the most eccentric and the most industrious. He is now as lawless as Shelley, and now as graceful as Addison; now erratic as Coleridge, and now plodding as Blackmore. His castles in the clouds are of solid masonry; his very abortions have marks of care and elaboration. This probably has injured our conception of his power. We hat to see a wizard for ever astride on his broomstick. We wish piles of magic to rise magically, and not by slow and laborious accumulation. We hear of the building of the Ark, but not of that of Jacob's ladder. It was let down, flashing suddenly its spiritual light across the desert and the brow of the sleeping patriarch. Southey's supernaturalisms smell too much of the oil, — there's "magic in the web;" but the web is so vast, that the witchery thins away, by diffusion, into shadow; he forgets that tedium is the antithesis of terror, that it is the etiquette of ghosts to make short calls; that, when they stay too long, we think them bores, and that a yawn is more effectual in remanding them to limbo than even the crowing of the cock.