1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Croly

B. M., "George Croly, a Literary and Biographical Sketch" Living Poets of England: Specimens of the Living British Poets (1827) 2:471-72.



The reverend George Croly has displayed in various works a great power of description, an impetuous elevation of feeling and passion with a rich musical ear. His tragedy of Catiline, considered as a poem or a drama, is a splendid performance; but was never brought out on the stage. Like Milman's and Byron's tragedies, 'tis rather a reading play.

The Angel of the World, which stands first in the list of Croly's poems, is a beautiful paraphrase on one of the most graceful fictions of the Koran. The Angels Haruth and Maruth had, it seems, spoken uncharitably concerning mankind — and expressed, in the regions above, great contempt for those temptations which are, and have long been found, most efficacious for overthrowing the resolutions of terrestrial virtue. That they might have their own fearless purity put to the proof, the two proud angels were sent down to dwell for a season on the earth, and to mingle with those that it inherit. A woman was sent to tempt them, and they fell. Her charms won them first to drink of the forbidden fruit of the grape; and after that fall, all others were easy. They stained their essence with the corruptions of sense, and betrayed to mortal ears "the words that raise men to Angels."

In order to simplify, and thereby increase the interest of this story, our poet has contented himself with narrating the seduction of one Angel only; but he has wisely adhered, in all other respects, to the original of the legend. With infinite splendour of language, he describes "the Angel of the World" as tabernacled within a lofty tower near the city of Damascus, there listening to the petitions of the children of earth. A variety of temptations appear in different human shapes, and are all sted-fastly resisted, except the last.

There is another poem of Croly, against the subject of which nothing can be said, but we are afraid, in its execution, Mr. Croly has indulged himself in very culpable haste and negligence — faults, of which comparatively few traces can be discovered in the Angel of the World. This is the tale of Sebastian, a fine romantic sketch of Spanish adventure, breathing, throughout all the rich and passionate spirit of the land where its scene is laid. It is a pity that the young poet has not bestowed more pains on this production, for the story is very happy; and here and there do occur particular passages elaborated in a style superior to any thing he has else where exhibited, and scarcely inferior, we must add, to any thing we can remember in the poetry of his most celebrated contemporaries. Nothing, we think, can be more exquisitely written than the apostrophe to the old moorish palace of the Alhambra, and yet the beauty of the writing is far from being even the chief of its merits.

Of the four young poets who have made any impression lately on the public mind, there are three to whose writings we can turn with well nigh unmingled satisfaction: Milman, Cornwall and Croly. In all the writings of these men, it is easy to discover faults of youth; but in all of them, the faults are of the right kind — faults, namely, of redundance, not of poverty faults of careless execution, not of cold conception. They are all of them imitators of the great poets that have immediately preceded them in the march of English literature — it was impossible, probably, that they should have been otherwise — but none of them are servile in their imitation, and they are all, in the best sense of the word, original poets.