1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Chandos Leigh

Anonymous, in Review of Leigh, Poems; The Champion (28 September 1817) 309.



There is a little of Moore's voluptuousness in these poems, — and a little of Lewis's mysteriousness, and a little of [William Robert] Spencer's gentility, — and a good deal of Lord Byron's weariness and bitterness of soul. Mr. Leigh appears to have retired now into the society of his own jaded thoughts, with a worn out heart and wasted spirits. We are not unkindly supposing these things, — or conceiving them from the general tenour of the author's verses: — he has very unreservedly, and, we think, rashly, made the world his confidante, — frankly telling it of his amours with Emma and Rosa, and one or two other generous souls, — of his passion for gambling, of nights in which "he chirped over his cups" and drank wine out of the better half of a dead gentleman's skull. We know of no good end which these acknowledgements can answer. It has become very much the custom of late for the young spirits of fashion to come with a harassed constitution and a penitent face, and confess all the vices of their lives and the faulty feelings of their heart, to the heedless and heartless world: — and a style of poetry has been manufactured expressly for this confessional purpose. The style is not like Mr. Moore's, which is scholastic, — nor like Mr. Spencer's, which is fantastic, — nor like Mr. Lewis's, which is bombastic: — but it is "a thing of its own," — short, catchy, and cynical. Lord Byron was the first who thought proper "truly to canvass the vices of his blood," — and certainly he did it with a pride and a solitariness which "forced an all-unwilling interest:" — then followed the self-exposing verses of hosts of gentlemen — sinners, who were as vicious as they could be, and as dull as they need be. Assuredly some of these owned to more crimes than they were entitled to, and talked of a self-abasement which was only verse-born. We fear, however, from many passages in the book before us, that Mr. Leigh has seen quite enough of dissipation to justify a good deal of honest regret, and a little of gentlemanly moroseness. Nevertheless, he should bear in mind, that to be a scoffer is not to be a wit, — even though his associates should in their generosity have averred it; — and that indelicacy is not the chief beauty of amorous poetry, — though his female companions should have asserted it. With all the faults of bad wit, immorality, sentimentality, and laboured rapture, which are to be met with in Mr. Leigh's poems, — there is still a vein of generosity and feeling running through parts of them, which we should not have expected from the nature of the whole. Where he really feels, his language steadies itself immediately, — and seems to escape, as it were by a miracle, out of that intoxication, into which it had been thrown by fermented stuff from his sentimental cups. True poetry must be in good health, — and quite free from the inanity and weakness of inebriety. It is a common case to see verses as mawkish and as dissipated as their author, in these accomplished days of polished debauchery. We hope that Mr. Leigh will trust to his own feelings, rather than to the books and the bottles of his friends, in his future poems, — for the former will certainly improve with age, as much as the latter, if he gives them fair play: — he has, however, declared, — as Lord Byron has vowed before him, — that he is not likely to try his chance in the poetical lottery again. We do not see why he should withdraw: — for though the blanks are nearly as alarmingly numerous as in the State Wheel, still he might have the stood luck to win the sixteenth of a modern popularity, though he should fail in obtaining the capital prize of deathless fame.