1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Campbell

Francis Jeffrey to Thomas Campbell, 1 March 1809; Beattie, Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell (1849) 2:171-73.



Edinburgh, March 1st, 1809.

I have seen your Gertrude. The sheets were sent to Alison, and he allowed me, though very hastily, to peruse them. There is great beauty, and great tenderness, and fancy in the work — and I am sure it will be very popular. The latter part is exquisitely pathetic, and the whole touched with those soft and skyish tints of purity and truth, which fall like enchantment on all minds that can make anything of such matters. Many of your descriptions come nearer the tone of "The Castle of Indolence," than any succeeding poetry, and the pathos is much more graceful and delicate.... But there are faults too — for which you must be scolded. In the first place, it is too short — not merely for the delight of the reader — but, in some degree, for the development of the story, and for giving full effect to the fine scenes that are delineated. It looks almost as if you had cut out large portions of it, and filled up the gaps very imperfectly....

There is little or nothing said, I think, of the early love, and of the childish plays of your pair, and nothing certainly of their parting, and the effects, of separation on each — though you had a fine subject in his European tour, seeing every thing with the eyes of a lover — a free man, and a man of the woods.... It ends rather abruptly — not but that there is great spirit in the description — but a spirit not quite suitable to the soft and soothing tenor of the poem. The most dangerous faults, however, are your faults of diction. There is still a good deal of obscurity in many passages — and in others a strained and unnatural expression — an appearance of labour and hardness; you have hammered the metal in some places till it has lost all its ductility.

These are not great faults, but they are blemishes; and as dunces will find them out — noodles will see them when they are pointed to. I wish you had had courage to correct, or rather to avoid them — for with you they are faults of over-finishing, and not of negligence. I have another fault to charge you with in private — for which I am more angry with you than for all the rest. Your timidity, or fastidiousness, or some other knavish quality, will not let you give your conceptions glowing, and bold, and powerful, as they present themselves; but you must chasten, and refine, and soften them, forsooth, till half their nature and grandeur is chiselled away from them. Believe me, my dear C, the world will never know how truly you are a great and original poet, till you venture to cast before it some of the rough pearls of your fancy. Write one or two things without thinking of publication, or of what will be thought of them — and let me see them, at least, if you will not venture them any further. I am more mistaken in my prognostics than I ever was in my life, if they are not twice as tall as any of your full-dressed children... I write all this to you in a terrible hurry — but tell me instantly when your volume is to be out.

F. JEFFREY.