1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Lamb

Leigh Hunt, in "The Works of Charles Lamb" The Examiner (21 March 1819) 187.



That the poetical part of Mr. Lamb's volumes (and as this comes first, we will make the first half of our criticism upon it) is not so striking as the critical, we allow. And there are several reasons for it; — first, because criticism inevitably explains itself more to the reader; whereas poetry, especially such as Mr. Lamb's, often gives him too much credit for the apprehensiveness in which it deals itself; — second, because Mr. Lamb's criticism is obviously of a most original cast, and directly informs the reader of a number of things which he did not know before; whereas the poetry, for the reason just mentioned, leaves him rather to gather them; — third, because the author's genius, though in fact of an anti-critical nature (his very criticisms chiefly tending to overthrow the critical spirit) is also less busied with creating new things, which is the business of poetry, than with inculcating a charitable and patient content with old, which is a part of humanity: — fourth and last, because from an excess of this content, of love for the old poets, and of diffidence in recommending to others what has such infinite recommendations of it's own, he has really, in three or four instances, written pure common-places on subjects deeply seated in our common humanity, such as the recollections of childhood (vol. 1. p. 71.), the poem that follows it, and one or two of the sonnets. But he who cannot see, that the extreme old simplicity of style in The Three Friends is a part and constituent recommendation of the very virtue of the subject; — that the homely versification of the Ballad noticing the Difference of Rich and Poor has the same spirit of inward reference, — that the little Robert Burton-like effusion, called Hypochondriachus, has all the quick mixture of jest and earnest belonging to such melancholy, — and that the Farewell to Tobacco is a piece of exuberant pleasantry, equally witty and poetical, in which the style of the old poets becomes proper to a wit overflowing as theirs, — such a man may be fit enough to set up for a critic once a month, but we are sure he has not an idea in his head once a quarter.