1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Gates Percival

Edward Everett, in Review of Percival, Clio Nos I and II; North American Review [Boston] 16 (January 1823) 107.



Whoever has attempted a fair sit-down to any of Mr. Percival's volumes, must, we are confident, recognise most, if not all of the peculiarities above specified, and ascribe to their influence the frequency with which he has laid aside the book, and achieved a complete perusal only by repeated assaults.

Yet we will venture to say (for here closes the unwilling and unenviable portion of our task) that he, who has examined to any considerable extent the poetry of our author, must have received an ample reward, and found abundant and splendid exceptions and balances to the defects above enumerated. There certainly reigns in many parts of it the true etherial spirit. The vein is often as fine as any we have ever known. The pieces are not few, in which the soul of the author, rising as he proceeds, involves itself and the reader in a cloud of delicious enchantment. He possesses the rare and divine art of imparting to language those mysterious and unearthly influences which come to us from the strings of the Aeolian harp. Without employing our senses as instruments, he can yet diffuse through our feelings something like the result of all the sweetest sensations. Other authors often obtain admiration and fame from the excellence and beauty of separate ideas and sentiments, and the skill with which they arrange them. These gifts are enough to make the fine writer; they may produce the deepest immediate impressions. But to these Mr. Percival adds the power of exciting in the mind a pervading and continuing charm; an aggregate effect, separate from the original one, analogous to a secondary rainbow. As you wander through the garden of his poetry, you enjoy something more than the pleasure of gazing on individual specimens, or inhaling their successive sweets, or surveying gay beds and fairly ordered parterres; — for the air itself is occupied with a spirit of mingled fragrance. As mere music often speaks a sort of language, so our author's language breathes a sort of music. We are convinced that it is true poetry, since in reading it we have exactly the same feeling as in surveying admired subjects in the sister arts of painting and statuary.