1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bernard Barton

John Scott?, in "Barton's Poems" London Magazine 2 (August 1820) 194-95.



We have felt a good deal interested in this volume, in consequence of hearing that its author is one of the Society of Friends; but certainly it cannot be said of him, that he sees creation clothed in a drab-coloured suit. He writes stanzas to ladies, verses to valleys, and a lyrical address to the Gallic eagle; — and all this he does in as quick, free, and lively a spirit, as any worldling poet that can be named. The only peculiarity we can discover about the pieces, indicative of their writer's sect, is their extreme benevolence, and spotless innocence. In these respects, indeed, his muse may be said to possess a lovely Quaker countenance, — such as we have sometimes had the good fortune to see in stage coaches, and have invariably fallen in love with, whenever we have seen it. The eye sparkling, but quiet in self-possession and modesty; the delicate complexion reflecting health of body and mind; the regular features, ever undisturbed by wayward or lawless feelings: — such is a Quaker beauty; graceful in reserve, — holy as a nun, yet performing, or ready to perform, her proper part in society; — a Venus in a poke-bonnet, whose presence causes strangers to feel the authority and power of virtue, and to discipline their discourse, so as to pay homage to purity! We really wish that Mr. Barton, who has much better opportunities than we can boast of, to contemplate the bewitching originals of this description, would send us a poetical portrait of some young and lovely friend, it, whom the characteristic features of the sect are intimately united with the captivations of the charming woman. We should be proud to see it adorning the pages of the London Magazine, with its fine Madonna, Bethlem aspect. We had rather have it in our cabinet collection than any of Mrs. Mier's gallery, except Lady Jersey, whose beauty, if she were but a Quaker, would be altogether fatal. We have reason, therefore, to thank heaven that she is contented to be the queen of Almack's.

The volume before us, generally speaking, is filled with the amiable effusions of a kind and gifted mind, whose internal harmony is in beautiful unison with the melody of external nature, and of virtue. More brilliant compositions, more finished and powerful poetry we have often met with; but we have never met with any that afforded more unequivocal indication of genuine feeling, of deep affection, of benevolence, sympathy, taste, and integrity. The writer seems to have an ear ever on the listen for the accents of charity, patriotism, and religion, — that he may catch their burthen, and prolong their sound: wherever human anguish causes the tear to start, there would he fain be to soothe or alleviate: whatever has really deserved well of fame, he is proud to celebrate: and the choicest and coyest charms of nature have smitten his heart with indelible impressions.

For these reasons the contents of his book form a catalogue of the best, the most beautiful, and the most touching subjects: all that is most calculated to improve and delight the mind, is there to. be found, — in short, we cannot conceive a more lively reflection of a worthy character than this collection of poems.

That the expression is always on a par with the feeling we cannot say: the writer's style, as it strikes us, is very unequal, and, in the simplicity of conscious sincerity, we sometimes find him common-place in phrase, and careless in construction. It is very easily to be seen that Mr. Barton is not a professional writer: — we find very ordinary lines often following very good ones, in his compositions, in a way that declares him disdainful of the labour necessary to avoid this, and to give his powers fair play. Near his most lively images are placed some of the dullest; and common prosing is too frequently hard on the heels of passages of genuine poetry. — We should, on the whole, then, set him down as an amateur of distinguished talent, ready to celebrate any worthy subject that offers itself; one that ought to be, and no doubt is, highly prized in the circles, and amongst the acquaintance, where, and to whom, he acts as laureate.