1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Habington

Anonymous, Preface to Castara (1812); Retrospective Review 12 (1825) 275.



The amatory poetry of Habington is that of a man who regards woman as a highly intellectual being: not as the mere slave and instrument of sensual pleasures: and the correctness of his mind, in this particular, is equally apparent in his prose and verse. There are writers of the present day, who, if they could be supposed capable of any touches of moral compunction, might start at a passage in the preface to Castara: "Of such heathens our times afford us an unpitied multitude; who can give no other testimony of twenty years' employment than some loose copies of lust happily expressed. Yet these the common people of wit blow up with the breath of praise, and honour with the sacred name of poets." In Habington we have no burning glances, or murmuring blisses, or blasphemous exclamations of delirious rapture: still less is the lady insulted by vaunts of a general and systematic sensuality. She is neither complimented by the assurance of dividing the thoughts of her lover with the vulgar pleasure of the glass, nor told that between kisses and bumpers life glides pleasantly away. Instead of this we have the delicacy of sentiment, with which our mothers were pleased to be addressed, and to which our daughters may lend their ears without risk of mental contamination.... His figures, and illustrations, are almost always new and uncommon, and denote a lively and pregnant imagination. They are not always free from conceit, but they frequently strike by their elegant appositeness no less than by their familiar beauty.