1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Anonymous, Review of Browning, An Essay on Mind; Gentleman's Magazine 98 (December 1828) 533.



These effusions are written by a Miss Barret, a Herefordshire lady, at a time when she was only eighteen years of age. It appears also that she is a classical scholar. The Essay on Mind is the chief poem, and it is a most successful imitation of Pope, as will appear by the following energetic lines:

Nor scornful deem the effort out of place,
With taste to reason, and convice with grace;
But ponder wisely, ere you know too late,
Contempt of trifles will not prove us great!
The cynics, not their tubs, respect engage,
A dirty tunic never made a sage,
E'en Cato — had he owned the Senate's will,
And wash'd his toga — had been Cato still.

This young lady has very considerable poetic talent, and that it may be improved to its utmost, we recommend her to give up Pope, as an archetype. He leads to false taste, antithesis, and artificial, not natural flowers, and does not exclude ideas which, as being abstract, do not belong to poetry. The first object in that art is fine or beautiful idea; but the Essay on Man is a mathematical poem, with here and there only a line of pure poetry.