1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Millhouse

R., "Millhouse's Blossoms commended" Gentleman's Magazine 93 (February 1823) 101-02.



I am anxious to draw your attention, and that of your numerous readers, to a pleasing little publication just put into my hands, entitled "Blossoms, by Robert Millhouse," consisting of several very interesting sonnets.

Short and simple as is the construction of the Sonnet, and numerous as have been the tribes of Sonneteers in every age and nation where poetry has been admired; yet (as was the complaint of a writer upwards of a century ago, and there is almost as just foundation for it even now) "what a world of insipid productions in this kind have we been pestered with!" And the reason the same writer very properly assigns, namely, that it proceeds in a great measure from a wrong notion of the nature of these little compositions. Conducted like the Epigram, the winding up or point should turn upon some moral or delicate idea; and this, when wrought up as it should be with the utmost nicety and regularity, with an exact purity of style, and an elegant and easy flow of numbers, cannot fail to produce a moral effect upon the mind of the reader. Thus far I have considered only the design of the Sonnet. I will now consider the materials necessary for its composition. In a long poem, a drama, or even an ode, slight irregularities and deviations, nay, even prosaic expressions may be overlooked; but in the Sonnet, the smallest blemish, "like a flaw in a jewel," deteriorates the whole value of it. A Sonnet is like "an image in enamel;" it requires all those delicate finishing strokes, which on a larger figure would be thrown away, where the strength and boldness of a masterly hand give all the grace. Now, by every test contained in the above remarks, I conceive, if the little work which now claims your attention, be tried, it will, I think, stand the severest ordeal.

A few brief particulars of the author's birth, lineage, and early education, by his own brother, embodied by his kind biographer in this sketch, are thus given:

Robert Millhouse was born at Nottingham, Oct. 14, 1788, and was the second of ten children. The poverty of his parents compelled them to put him to work at the age of six years; and when ten, he was placed in a stocking-frame. He had been constantly sent to a Sunday School, till about the last-mentioned age; when a requisition having been sent by the Rector of St. Peter's parish to the master of the school for six of his boys to become singers in the church, Robert was one that was selected; and thus terminated his education, which consisted merely of reading, and the first rudiments of writing.

When sixteen years old, he seemed for the first time struck with the power of poetry, by reading on a tablet, under a small image of Shakspeare, this inscription: "The cloud-capt towers," &c. The uncommon beauty and sublimity of the passage exciting in his mind the highest degree of admiration, he said, "Is it not Scripture?" On being told it was from Shakspeare's play of "The Tempest," he immediately read that inimitable piece, and several other standing poetical works with eagerness.

When he had obtained the age of 22, he entered the Nottinghamshire Militia, which, four years afterwards, being disembodied, he again returned to the stocking-frame, till 1817, when he was placed on the Staff of the Royal Sherwood Foresters; and in the following year became a married man. The cares and necessities of a family soon increasing, he began seriously to reflect on his future prospects; and perceiving no better chance of improving his condition, he began to think of publishing the few small pieces he had written; but as they were not sufficient to form a Volume, he resolved to attempt something of greater length and importance. Thence originated his poem of "Vicissitude," which he prosecuted with unceasing ardour, sometimes composing it while at work under the pressure of poverty and ill health; at other times, when released from his daily labour, encroaching upon the hours which ought to have been allotted to sleep.

Such is the Author's biography. Permit me now to turn to his present work, which consists entirely of Sonnets. The first is inscribed "to Beneficence," having been blessed by the generous and the good, with most liberal and timely assistance, during some severe distresses, by which he had been recently visited. This elegant little tribute at once shows the gratitude of the Author's heart, and the soundness of his principles.

The following Sonnet would do no discredit to the pen, the head, or the heart of any of our great standard poets. It is addressed "to an Infant Daughter:"—

Sweet blue-eyed Cherub! in my prayers for thee,
I have not ask'd for beauty, yet thou'rt fair;
And as for wealth — thy lot is poverty;
Nor do I wish much gold to be thy share.
May Heav'n protect thee from the villain's snare,
And give thee virtue and a prudent mind!
Long may thy cheek the rose and dimple wear,
With breath as fragrant as the vernal wind.
Oh, may to thee the liberal Arts be kind!
Nor be thou Fortune's scorn so much as I!
And let thine heart to those firm precepts bind,
Which will not fail to lift the soul on high.
My Cherub! if enough of these be given,
Thee and the rest I leave to judging Heaven.

It is needless for me to point out the beauties of the above. They crowd one upon the other, line after line; nor does it require the heart of a father to discern them. I will only add, that there are many others of equal beauty to be found in this humble Minstrel's little performance; but to that, for his sake, for Charity's sake, for their own sakes, I must refer your Readers for much additional gratification. R.