1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Lovell

Thomas Holcroft, Review of Lovell and Southey, Poems; The Monthly Review NS 17 (August 1795) 354-55.



It has frequently been said that in England the age of poetry is past. Unfounded as we hope and believe this assertion to be, yet is must be allowed that good poems are of slow and difficult birth; and that the poets of the present aera are much too easily satisfied, with verses that may more properly be called the effusions of haste than the productions of a mind select in its subjects, fertile in imagination, and mature in judgment. A trifling aptness for alliteration, a prettyness of phrase, a smooth versification, and a correct list of rhymes, are the general characteristics of our present poets. There are, however, exceptions: but they are few.

Of these faults, and some others, the present poems are too frequently guilty. We particularly object to a certain woe-begone and debilitating affectation of fine feeling. We are conscious of perhaps a culpable degree of regret at thus exercising our duty, because the poems bear internal evidence of the virtuous intentions of the authors: but a propensity to bewail instead of to remedy misfortune has too long been supposed the test of superiority of mind, and of uncommon delicacy sentiment; and, both as critics and moralists, we think ourselves bound to combat the error, and to endeavour to turn the tide in favour of fortitude: to which men in general have been so little accustomed that, in their admiration, whenever they have met with it, even when exercised for vicious purposes, they have called it heroism. We are the more desirous of producing that effect, and the more encouraged to attempt it, in the present instance, because we are persuaded that the defects of these poems are much more to be attributed to the youth and immaturity of the writers than to any want of poetic genius. We must in justice add that the vice of despondency is the most prevalent in the verses of Mr. S. and that Mr. L. more frequently distinguishes which and what are the true sources of happiness.