1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Preston

William Taylor of Norwich, Review of Preston, Poetical Works; The Monthly Review NS 16 (February 1795) 166-67.



Of the poems before us, a portion was composed under the influence of Thalia, and another under that of Melpomene: the former being the more propitious Muse. The most important pieces in the first volume, and those which present themselves foremost, are Heroids, or heroic epistles; a form of composition probably invented by Ovid: at least his works of this kind are the earliest that have descended to modern times. An attempt (not very fortunate) was made by Drayton to naturalize in England a series of these amatory elegiac effusions. At length, Pope, in the Epistle from Eloisa to Abelard, produced a model surpassing every preceding effort, and hitherto unequalled by his numerous copiers. As every popular poem of the serious and sublime cast naturally draws after it imitations of the burlesque and familiar kind, so it was natural to imagine that the comic heroid would find among our satirists an adequate number of votaries. Of these, Mr. Preston is certainly one of the most distinguished; and for his smooth numbers, innumerable allusions, felicity of parody, and entertaining wit, he really deserves more than to pass in transient procession through the precincts of the temple of Fame. We are obliged to him therefore for collecting and reprinting in these volumes Donna Teresa's Epistle and Answer, the Epistle to Omiah, and some others which were severally noticed by us on their original appearance. It should be understood, however, that, after the manner of Juvenal, he very daringly exposes the nudity of vice; and that his holy zeal, like the discipline of the flagellants, may accommodate both the libertine and the penitent. Many of the poems in the first volume are of the light erotic kind, sonnets from Petrarch, translations from Anacreon and others, and love elegies; all of which are correct, and several, as the Vision of Petrarch, animated and beautiful.