1911 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wilson

George Saintsbury, in History of English Literary Criticism (1911) 427-28.



Wilson [in his essays on Spenser in Blackwood's Magazine, 1833-35] spends far too much time in slaying forgotten Satans that never were very Satanic — the silliness of the excellent Hughes, the pedantry of the no less excellent Spence, the half-heartedness, even, of Tom Warton. He does not entirely discard his old horse-play and his old grudges, though we can well pardon him for the fling that "the late Mr. Hazlitt" did not think Sidney and Raleigh gentlemen. But he discards them to a very great extent; as well as the old namby-pambiness which sometimes mars his earlier work, when he is sentimental, and which, with him as with Landor, was a real danger. And the thing is full of admirable things, — the generous admission that "Campbell's criticism is as fine and true as his poetry;" the victorious defence of the Spenserian stanza against those who think it a mere following of the Italians: a hundred pieces of good exposition and appreciation. While as for mere writing, we have "written fine" after De Quincy and Wilson himself for some eighty years. But have we often beaten this: "Thus here are many elegies in one; but that one [Daphnaida] is as much a whole as the 'sad' sky with all its 'misty' stars"?