1851 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Horace Smith

David Macbeth Moir, in Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 197-99.



Brilliant, but far less brilliant ill their natural and acquired endowments than Theodore Hook, were the brothers Horace and James Smith — not so the impression they have managed to leave behind them. Their first combined work, The Rejected Addresses, stood and stands without a parallel in our literature. It is a thing sui generis, and must have high merit for, often as its popularity has been attempted to be shaken by younger hands, and the adaptation of newer themes to similar management, it remains not only unsurpassed but is literally a first without a second. Written for a temporary purpose in 1812, it still remains a staple production in 1851; and probably no better, or at least more truthful and striking, epitome of the greater and smaller authors, whose characteristic excellencies, peculiarities, and defects it professes to imitate, can anywhere be found than in its lively and ludicrous pages. Among its happiest things are the imitations of Crabbe and Coleridge, by James Smith; and of Scott and Byron, by Horace. Exquisitely humorous as are the Monk Lewis, the Wordsworth, the Southey, and the Fitzgerald, they can be regarded merely as travesties, and are consequently far inferior to those mentioned in value. The only other joint production of the Smiths, the Horace in London, bears many traces of the same cleverness; but the pieces are very unequal, and are mostly rather indications than expressions of peculiar power; and the volume is now out of date, from its entirely referring to the current levities, humours, and topics of London life at the time when it appeared.

With classical taste, shrewd observation, humour, wit, and feeling, it is a strange fact that James and Horace Smith were alike much more eminent for their imitative than for their original powers — a fact demonstrated by those compositions which each respectively gave the world as his own; and in this point of view they were inferior to another of kindred mind, the Hon. William Robert Spencer, whose muse, like theirs, and that of Theodore Hook, was happiest in the dedication of its powers to the enlivenment of the social hour, or in the composition of what the French have termed Vers de Societe. In the ballad of Beth Gelert, and in one or two of his lyrics, Spencer tried the working of a deeper vein, and not unsuccessfully. His verses, which are generally light and complimentary, have more of the sparkle and polish of Moore than those of the Smiths and bring to mind the paste-diamond conceits of Waller, Cowley, and Crashaw. But all three seem to stand much on the same level as poets; and, indeed, to have adopted the same canons in composition, as well as the same field for their selection of subjects. Nor would it be easy to excel, in its way, either the Retrospection, or the Upas Tree of James Smith, which are pervaded by a tone of rich mellow sentiment; or the Verses on the Terrace at Windsor, and the Address to the Mummy at Belzoni's of Horace, both full of strikingly graphic touches — the latter especially, which started into an instant popularity, which through thirty years it has maintained, in a degree second only to Wolfe's Stanzas on the Burial of Sir John Moore.