1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Charles Burney, in Review of Lyrical Ballads; The Monthly Review NS 29 (June 1799) 203.



We have had pleasure in reading the "reliques of ancient poetry," because it was ancient; and because we were surprised to find so many beautiful thoughts in the rude numbers of barbarous times. These reasons will not apply to imitations of antique versification. — We will not, however, dispute any longer about names; the author shall style his rustic delineations of low-life, "poetry," if he pleases, on the same principle on which Butler is called a poet, and Teniers a painter: but are the doggrel verses of the one equal to the sublime numbers of a Milton, or are the Dutch boors of the other to be compared with the angels of Raphael or Guido? — When we confess that our author has had the art of pleasing and interesting in no common way by his natural delineations of human passions, human characters, and human incidents, we must add that these effects were not produced by the poetry: — we have been as much affected by pictures of misery and unmerited distress, in prose. The elevation of soul, when it is lifted into the higher regions of imagination, affords us a delight of a different kind from the sensation which is produced by the detail of common incidents....

The author's first piece, the Rime of the ancyent marinere, in imitation of the style as well as of the spirit of the elder poets, is the strangest story of a cock and bull that we ever saw on paper: yet, though it seems a rhapsody of unintelligible wildness and incoherence, (of which we do not perceive the drift, unless the joke lies in depriving the wedding guest of his share of the feast,) there are in it poetical touches of an exquisite kind.