1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Howitt

John Wilson, et. al., in Blackwood's Magazine (April 1831); Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 4:315-16.



NORTH. Your head, my dear James, is now touching Howitt's Book of the Seasons. Prig and pocket it. 'Tis a jewel.

(The Shepherd seizes it from the shelf, and acts per order.)

SHEPHERD. Is Nottingham far intil England sir? For I wou'd really like to pay the Hooitts a visit this simmer. Thae Quakers are, what ane might scarcely opine frae first principles, a maist poetical Christian seck. There was Scott o' Amwell, wha wrott some simplish things in a perseverin' speerit o' earnestness; there is Wilkinson, yonner, wha wonns on a beautifu' banked river, no far off Peerith, (is't the Eamont, think ye?) the owther o' no a few poems delichtfu' in their domesticity — auld bachelor though he be — nae warld-sick hermit, but an enlichtened labourer o' love, baith in the kitchen and flower garden o' natur'; — lang by letter has me and Bernard Bartoon been acquent, and verily he is ane o' the mildest and modestest o' the Muses' sons, nor wanting a thochtfu' genie, that aften gies birth to verses that treasure themselves in folk's hearts; — the best scholar amang a' the Quakers is Friend Wiffen, a capital translator, Sir Walter tells me, o' poets wi' foreign tongues, sic as Tawso, and wi' an original vein too, sir, which has produced, as I opine, some verra pure ore; — and feenally, aught I ken, but I'se answer for William and Mary, husband and wife, and oh! but they're weel met; and eke for Richard, (can he be their brither?) and wha's this was tellin' me about anither brither o' Wullie's, a Dr. Godfrey Hooit, ane o' the best botanists in a' England, and a desperate beetle-hunter?

NORTH. Entomologist, James. A man of science.

SHEPHERD. The twa married Hooits I love just excessively, sir. What they write canna fail o' being poetry, even the maist middlin' o't, for its aye wi' them the ebullition o' their ain feeling, and their ain fancy, and whenever that's the case, a bonny word or twa will drap itsell into ilka stanzy, and a sweet stanzy or twa intil ilka poem, and sae they touch, and sae they sune win a body's heart; and frae readin' their byeuckies ane wishes to ken theirsells, and indeed do ken theirsells, for their personal characters are revealed in their volumes, and methinks I see Wully and Mary—

NORTH. Strolling quietly at eve or morn by the silver Trent—

SHEPHERD. No sae silver, sir, surely as the Tweed?

NORTH. One of the sincerest streams in all England, James.

SHEPHERD. Sincere as an English sowle that caresna wha looks intil't, and flaws baudly alang whether reflectin' cluds or sunshine.

NORTH. Richard, too, has a true poetical feeling, and no small poetical power. His unpretending volume of verses well deserves a place in the library along with those of his enlightened relatives — for he loves nature truly as they do, and nature has returned his affection.

SHEPHERD. But what's this Byeuck o' the Seasons?

NORTH. In it the Howitts have wished to present us with all their poetic and picturesque features — a Calendar of Nature, comprehensive and complete in itself — which, on being taken up by the lover of nature at the opening of each month, should lay before him in prospect all the objects which each month would present, in the garden, in the field, and the waters — yet confining itself solely to those objects. Such in their own words, is said to be their aim.

SHEPHERD. And nae insignificant aim either, sir. Hae they hit it?

NORTH. Just so, James. Their pictures are all English.

SHEPHERD. They show their sense in stickin' to their native land — for unless the heart has brooded, and the een brooded too, on a' the aspecks o' the ooter world till the edge o' ilka familiar leaf recalls the name o' the flower, shrub, or tree frae which it has been blawn by the wund, or drapped into the cawm, the poet's haun' 'ill waver, and his picture be but a haze. In a' our warks, baith great un' sma' let us be national; an' thus the true speerit o' ae kintra 'ill be breathed intil anither, an' the haill warld encompassed an' pervaded wi' poetry and love.

NORTH. As a proof, James, of their devotedness to merry England—

SHEPHERD. No a whit less merry that it contains a gude mony Quakers.

NORTH. — Our Friends have described the year, without once alluding — as far as I have observed — to the existence of Thomson!

SHEPHERD. Na — that is queer an' comical aneuch; nor can I just a'thegither appruve o' that forgetfulness, ignorance, or omission.

NORTH. It shows their sincerity. They quote, indeed, scarcely any poetry but Wordsworth's — for in it, above all other, their quiet, and contemplative, and meditative spirits seem to repose in delight.