1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fitz-Greene Halleck

William Cullen Bryant, in New York Mirror (1836); Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 6:498.



Sometimes in the midst of a strain of harmonious diction, and soft and tender imagery, he surprises us by an irresistible stroke of ridicule, as if he took pleasure in showing the reader that the poetical vision he had raised was but a cheat. Sometimes, with that aerial facility which is his peculiar endowment, he accumulates graceful and agreeable images in a strain of irony so fine that, did not the subject compel the reader to receive it as irony, he would take it for a beautiful passage of serious poetry — so beautiful that he is tempted to regret that he is not in earnest, and that phrases so exquisitely chosen, and poetic coloring so brilliant, should be employed to embellish subjects to which they do not properly belong. At other times he produces the effect of wit by dexterous allusion to contemporaneous events, introduced as illustrations to the main subject, with all the unconscious gracefulness of the most animated and familiar conversation. He delights in ludicrous contrasts, produced by bringing the nobleness of the ideal world into comparison with the homeliness of the actual; the beauty and grace of Nature with the awkwardness of Art. He venerates the past, and laughs at the present. He looks at them through a medium which lends to the former the charm of romance, and exaggerates the deformity of the latter.