1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Campbell

Anonymous, in "The Augustan Age in England" The Album 1 (1822) 211-13.



Mr. CAMPBELL has, perhaps, never quite fulfilled the brilliant promise of his early years — but what he has given us is of great beauty and value. The Pleasures of Hope may be considered the connecting link between the past and present school of poetry. It is written in the metre and manner of the first, and with the glow, animation, and energy of the other. Considered as the work of a very young man, it is indeed a wonderful performance; and naturally gave rise to expectations which have never, perhaps, been wholly accomplished. Gertrude of Wyoming has infinite grace, elegance, and sweetness — but it wants force. The character of the Indian Chief, indeed, is a masterly sketch, and gives rise to flashes of the very greatest power — but, as a whole, the poem has, certainly, an air of languor. The causes of this have been satisfactorily pointed out by almost every critic who has written on the subject. It is evident that over-carefulness has cramped the exertions of genius — that it has pruned away the luxuriances of poetical imagination, till nothing but the bare trunk, or at most, trimmed branches, remain. The well-known couplet, which is so often false—

Poets lose half the praise they would have got
Were it but known what they discreetly blot—

is here completely verified. We would give a great deal to see Gertrude of Wyoming with every stanza as it was originally composed. The crudenesses and superfluities which would, of course, appear, would be far more than compensated by the impress of immediate genius. We are confirmed in this opinion by the vigor of Mr. Campbell's shorter pieces. His Elsinore — Hohenlinden — and Mariners of England are, in our view, his most powerful compositions. His genius is there suffered to move unshackled — the "fire from heaven" there burns with undimmed brightness. O'Connor's Child, too, is a production of enchanting beauty. Its exquisite sweetness, and mildness, and pathos, bear ample marks of having flowed uncontrolledly from the poet's heart, and, in consequence, irresistibly win their way to ours. But Mr. Campbell has, of late years, shewn that his powers are not confined to poetry — "Equal to both, and armed for either field," he has proved himself a most accomplished prose writer. His criticisms on poetry are made with a poet's feeling. We do not consider it necessary for a man to have written verses to be able to criticise poetry — but he ought to have the mind of a poet, that he may fully enter into and appreciate the poetical creations of those concerning whom he writes. And who possesses this in so eminent a degree as Mr. Campbell? His critical writings, hence, are delightful. He has the utmost grace of style — and writes with a knowledge and fondness of the art, which betray the hand of a brother of the craft. But why does Mr. Campbell confine himself to these? — why does he not give the world a poem which shall place his name undisputedly on the pinnacle of fame? He is in the fulness of his powers, and may yet produce a work which shall realize all the promise of his early years.