1793 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Quarles

Ferdinando Stanley, "Quarles's Poems" in Gentleman's Magazine 63 (March 1793) 211-12.



Eight or nine years ago I procured a copy of Quarles's Emblems, attracted, if I recollect, by the notice taken of him in [William] Jackson's Letters [Thirty letters on various Subjects, 1783], though I do not remember having since seen the latter book; nor can I recall to my mind any particulars of the author's Criticisms on them, which, as I am about to make some selections from the same undeservedly-obscure poet, I mention in apology for any possible coincidence of extracts and remarks. In your vol. LVI. pp. 666, 926, C. T. O. (now known to have been the signature of the late ingenious Mr. Headley), endeavoured to prove the merit, and revive the memory, of the same ill-starred bard; for which attempts both critics are very liberally attacked by a person under the signature of Sharp, in your same volume. p. 1106. When I took up the poems myself, I was delighted with the very extraordinary variety and nervousness of Quarles's versification, with the vigour and originality of his thoughts, and frequently with the strength of his language; still, however, I distrusted my own judgement; but now that "Nonum prematur in annum," and that after so long a period, during which, at intervals sufficiently distant to leave no prejudice from former impressions, I have repeatedly examined the book, to form my opinion from the perusal of the moment; now, that I still continue, and have uniformly continued to think the same, I add my most hearty testimony to his merits. That the finest passages are too often debased by vulgar images, and metaphors, drawn from artificial objects, sentiments, manners, and expressions, I cannot deny. But from this fault what poet, so ancient, is free? Is Spenser, or Shakspeare, or Cowley? Certainly not. Mr. Headley has not, I think, done him justice; the particular passages he has selected are not the most striking which might be found; but, if they were, here and there an excellent passage will not constitute a good poem. I think there are whole poems,that, mixed with a few faults, are yet on the whole superlatively excellent.