1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Gates Percival

Anonymous, Review of Percival, Clio; New Monthly Magazine NS 6 (August 1822) 364-65.



When we take up our pen to notice a work from the other side of the Atlantic, we feel none of that splenetic ill-humour which seizes on some writers in this country at the very name of America. Fortunately their diatribes are not esteemed oracular among a people that now, more than at any former period, think and judge for themselves; and the impression they make is in consequence of very little moment. The principal evil, however, is that they lower the character or our literature in the eyes of foreigners, and let all the world see — what might as well have been kept in the back-ground — that falsehood and narrow-mindedness are too rife among us. For our own parts we can look forward and conceive that English literature may receive important additions to its glory when America is mature in years and population, and her citizens can divert their attention from the. arts necessary to life towards those which contribute to its embellishment. This time will by and by come, and with the advantage of a literature ready formed to their hands, we are justified in expecting much that is excellent from them. Foreigners of a different language will seldom ask whether an English book is written by a native of one country or the other; for good writers belong more to the language than to the nation, and an addition to the glory of American literature will be an addition to our own. The literary labours of the two nations will be rarely separated but by themselves. To the immortal labours of British genius America is heir, and she will no doubt set a due value on her mighty inheritance. Ill, therefore, does it become men of letters, British or American, to slander and defame their respective countries.

The present work, which we have too long delayed noticing, is the first of a series which are contemplated to succeed it at intervals, "as the materials sufficiently accumulate." It is a poetical miscellany, and contains much verse which affords a pleasing testimony of the author's genius. We could wish, however, that his imitations of the style and manner of our own writers had been fewer. The excelencies of the British writers, not their manner, are the proper models for American writers to study; in other respects let them try for originality, following the impulses of then own thoughts, and aiming at novelty of subject and concentration of thought. In the present Number we have imitations of Byron, Scott, Campbell, and others, so close and obvious is to destroy our interest in reading them.

It would be well worth the consideration of Mr. Percival, whether, mingling the polish of his style and the fire which he has caught from his models, he could not strike out some rich and original effusion of fancy which might give him a name among us; for many of the choicest gifts of a poet he certainly possesses: — let him try. There are several very spirited pieces, which breathe a manly independence, in this Number, and much that is tender and pathetic. The Ode to Athens, the naval ode, and others, are well conceived, but their being imitations deprives us of pleasure in their perusal. The lines to the Houstonia Cerulea are very sweet; and the picture of Catskill makes us wish to have a peep at. it. The following description of Consumption is a specimen of the author's manner in one of his most interesting pieces:—

O! there is a sweetness in beauty's close,
Like the perfume scenting this wither'd rose;
For a nameless charm around her plays,
And her eyes are kindled with hallow'd rays,
And a veil of spotless purity
Has mantled her cheek with its heavenly dye,
Like a cloud whereon the Queen of Night
Has pour'd her softest tint of light;
And there is a blending of white and blue,
Where the purple blood is melting through
The snow of her pale and tender cheek;
And there are tones, that sweetly speak
Of a spirit that longs for it purer day,
And is ready to wing her flight away.