1772 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gilbert Cooper

Anonymous, in "Catalogue of the most celebrated Writers" Letters concerning the present State of England (1772) 353-55.



COOPER. An elegant writer, and an ingenious critic. His Life of Socrates was composed with too great a display of learning; his Letters concerning Taste have many lively and judicious observations; the following passage on modern English poetry, tho' not entirely defensible, merits quoting. "For my own part I am of opinion, that there is now living a poet of the most genuine genius this kingdom ever produced, Shakespear excepted. By poetical genius, I do not mean the mere talent of making verses, but that glorious enthusiasm of soul, that 'fine Frenzy,' as Shakespear calls it, 'rolling from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,' which, like an able magician, can bring every object of the creation before the reader's eyes. This alone is poetry, ought else is a mechanical art of putting syllables harmoniously together. The gentleman I mean is Dr. Akenside, the worthy author of the Pleasures of the Imagination, the most beautiful dramatic poem that ever adorned the English, or any other language. A work, in which Milton's colouring, and Shakespear's incidental expression, with a warmth peculiar to himself, to paint the finest features of the human mind, and the most lovely forms of true religion and morality — I should not hesitate a moment, to prefer the Elegy in a country church-yard, written by Mr. Gray, of Peter-house in Cambridge, to the best performance of that kind in Ovid, Tibullus or Propertius. Has Horace any moral Ode equal to Mr. Nugent's Ode to mankind; or any descriptive one to Mr. Collins's Ode to the Evening. I should pay Mr. Mason no compliment, to compare all the excellencies in Seneca together to his elegant Elfrida; nor do I think I should at all degrade the Athenian stage, to say, that the palm of tragic glory hangs wavering betwixt the conjoined merit of Sophocles, Philoctetes, and the Oedipus Coloneus, and this modern tragedy, did not, Shakespear-like, a champion of old, inspired by all the gods, step majestically in, to bear it all away by supernatural powers from the utmost force of human abilities. I dare say, his Monody on the death of Mr. Pope, wherein he has imitated the stile of four of our English poets, has give you and every man of taste more pleasure, than the joined efforts of all the wits in the celebrated court of Leo X. There is another little piece, written by the same author, which has no rival in the court of Augustus, intituled, A Ode to a water nymph."