1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lydia Huntley Sigourney

Anonymous, Review of Sigourney, Moral Pieces in Prose and Verse; Literary and Philosophical Repository 2 (July 1815) 272-73, 283.



We learn from various sources, that she has had few advantages of early instruction, and that her employments have generally been altogether foreign to those of the student. During those years, in which the mind makes the most rapid advances in literary improvement, Miss Huntley must have been in a great measure deprived of two of the most important auxiliaries, — books and leisure. Of the defect of these facilities, especially the latter, we think the volume under inspection affords pretty satisfactory proof. The evil arising from a want of leisure is twofold. It not only prevents that intellectual culture, so necessary to peculiar excellence in any species of writing, but it urges to hasty composition: This induces negligence; and it is well if that negligence, which is at first occasional, and almost unavoidable, do not at length, become habitual. After all, it is not a little hazardous for a writer to expect much favour will be shown him on account of any infelicity in his circumstances. With these circumstances few will be acquainted, and still fewer will be disposed to make much allowance for them. The tribunal of the publick is a stern tribunal, and its decrees are often made with no very strict regard to the rules of equity. We do not, however, in the present instance, despair of seeing something like justice rendered, and if it should turn out otherwise, we trust it will not be through our fault. The volume in our hands is principally, made up of short pieces of poetry: It is occasionally diversified however, with specimens of prose composition. The whole bears evident marks of having been written at odd spells, and in those seasons of freedom from other avocations, with which accident, or the author's own diligence, now and then, supplied her.... We wish Miss Huntley all imaginable success in the humble, but useful, and honorable calling, in which she is engaged; but we should regret if it should so far curtail her hours of leisure, as to interrupt materially the cultivation and improvement of her own mind, and deprive the publick of the benefit of her future literary efforts. Whatever gifts Miss Hentley may possess which fit her to build the lofty rhyme, we are diposed to think, judging from the specimens already offered, that she has it in her power to be quite as useful, and to gain a still brighter reputation, by employing her talents in the plain style of instruction. Our right to counsel is an ex-officio privilege, and in the exercise of it, we have one additional piece of advice to give. If Miss Huntley should hereafter favour the publick, with the productions of her pen, we recommend to her, not only to adhere, in defiance of the complaints of her muse, to the practice of "copying off" and publishing, but to pursue it still farther. Every author, who desires that his writings should meet a higher destiny than speedy oblivion, must keep constantly in mind the just and pithy remark of Pope, that the first of all arts in a writer, is the art to blot.