1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

Anonymous, in "The Augustan Age in England" The Album 1 (1822) 223-24.



The causes of Mr. HUNT'S want of popularity as a poet are not so apparent, for some of his poetry is beyond measure beautiful. We take the secret of it to be that his imitation of ancient phraseology and versification has occasionally run him into affected modes of speech which have given a strong hold to ridicule; and people are afraid to admire that which, justly or not, has been laughed at. There is, in our view, nothing more contemptible and absurd than this; for there is, we will venture to assert, no work that ever was produced by human genius that could not be pulled to pieces in this way. With a certain degree of wit, and a sufficient proportion of malice, the Iliad, or Paradise Lost — Macbeth, or the School for Scandal — Childe Harold, or Waverley; could be made to appear perfectly ridiculous and contemptible to those who had seen nothing more. concerning them than a critique written in this spirit. These are the causes by which we account for the neglect into which the Story of Rimini has fallen, for it is intrinsically a production of exquisite beauty. That it is obscured by affectations we are far from denying: — like the image of Babouk, it is formed of precious stones mingled with base earth; but who would look only to the unsightly clay, and shut their eyes to the multitude of beautiful gems by which it is embellished and outshone. The opening of the poem — the procession — the whole of the third canto — and the death of Francesca, are all scenes which any poet, be he who he may, would be proud to have written, and which no one, with a poet's feeling, can read without delight. We do not know that we have ever seen so great a tone of real poetry of almost every kind, in the compass of a small volume, as is to be found in this work.