1851 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Croly

David Macbeth Moir, in Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 185-87.



George Croly first excited attention as a poet by his Paris in 1815; which, by its uncommon merits, at once gave him a fixed and distinguished place in literature, and was hailed as a probable harbinger of still greater achievements. This was followed in 1820 by The Angel of the World, an Arabian, and by Sebastian, a Spanish tale.

The Angel is a paraphrase of one of the most graceful fictions of the Koran, the fall from heaven of Haruth and Maruth, by the temptations of female beauty and wine. It is written in the Spenserian stanza, and with oriental gorgeousness and grace. But such subjects are too etherial — they do not stand handling; in their gossamer fabric they have the frailty of rose-leaves, besides being deficient in the materials which can alone command direct human sympathy.

Sebastian is a tale of greater length and higher pretensions — finer, as a composition, in some of its parts, as in the description of the Moorish palace of the Alhambra, which vies with those of Washington Irving and Mrs. Hemans — and of the taking of the veil by a daughter of the house of Medina Sidonia, which is full of serene and solemn beauty; but the poem is unequal to a degree that can only be laid to the score of sheer baste or carelessness — pleas which criticism dare not accept. Its faults are not those of poverty, but of redundance; and originate not from want of soil, or of sun and shower, but of the pruning-knife.

To Dr. Croly's next productions, Catiline, a Tragedy, and Pride shall have a Fall, a comedy, I allude not farther than to say, that, although the former is in some measure marred by its departure from historical accuracy, both are characterised by that vigorous handling and life-like dialogue which carry attention on with unflagging interest; and throughout the comedy, some of its author's finest lyrics are gracefully interspersed. These productions for the stage were succeeded by a series of illustrative verses to Dagley's Gems from the Antique, a con amore task, which he executed to admiration; these little poems being perhaps the most perfect things Dr. Croly has written — although it would be difficult to be very definite or decided on this point, as hundreds of copies of verses from his indefatigable pen, some of them of surpassing excellence, lie scattered about — rich bouquets of unowned flowers — throughout the wide unbounded fields of periodical literature.

As a poet, Dr. Croly has many great and shining qualities; a rich command of language, whether for the tender or the serious — an ear finely attuned to musical expression — a fertile and lucid conceptive power, and an intellect at once subtle and masculine. But it strikes me that he has never done full justice to his poetical genius, as none of his productions in verse at all come up to the standard of his undoubted capabilities. Most of his poems are liker effusions — mere sybillline leaves — than compositions. Thrown off at a heat, they have been given to the world without correction, and without elaboration; and hence we have passages of mere declamation seasoned with eloquence, and, not unfrequently, rhetoric unhesitatingly substituted for inspiration. Add to this, that his reputation as one of the most brilliant prose-writers of our time may be said to have, in some measure, eclipsed his lustre as a poet; for it would be difficult to point to any English style, save that of Edmund Burke's, at once so idiomatic and eloquent, so full of rich variety, and of such unflagging spirit. These excellencies he has shown in the many able volumes of his professional writings, as well s in his countless contributions to general literature, in the romance of Salathiel, the novel of Marstori, and the countless other outpourings of his voluminous and versatile pen.