1880 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hookham Frere

Austin Dobson, in The English Poets: Selections with Critical Introductions, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 4:240.



Frere's versions of the Aristophanic Comedy have an established reputation for spirit of rendering and mastery of metre. His translations from the Poema del Cid, which were printed in Southey's Chronicle, have also a fine balladic lilt; but their literal fidelity to the Spanish has been lately challenged. Of his original work, the best examples are to be found in the Anti-Jacobin and the Whistlecraft fragment. He had a hand in all the great successes of the former, — notably the immortal Needy Knife-Grinder and the excellent imitations of Darwin and Schiller in the loves of the Triangle: and The Rovers. For The Monks and the Giants he adopted an eight-line stanza based upon that of the Italians. It had already been used by Harrington, Drayton, Fairfax, and (as we have seen) in later times by Gay; it had even been used by Frere's contemporary, William Tennant; but to Frere belongs the honour of giving it the special characteristics which Byron afterwards popularised in Beppo and Don Juan. Structurally the ottava rima of Frere singularly resembles that of Byron, who admitted that Whistlecraft was his "immediate model." But notwithstanding the cleverness and versatility of The Monks and the Giants, its interest was too remote and its plan too uncertain to command any but an eclectic audience. Moreover, it was almost immediately eclipsed by Beppo. Byron, taking up the stanza with equal skill and greater genius, filled it with the vigour of his personality, and made it a measure of his own, which it has ever since been hazardous for inferior poets to attempt.