To borrow a metaphor from Johnson, we would say of these volumes, that at one time we are presented with a garden "accurately formed, diligently planted, and scented with the sweetest flowers," and at another, we have a forest, "filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diversity." There is nothing in the treasures of poetry hid from the genius of Croly; he brings the richest gems from the deepest mines, and they are polished into brilliancy, and set with taste and elegance by the hand of a master. In this expression of our praise, however, we are but echoing a voice which has long ranked him in the highest grade of poetical excellence, and ranged him among the brightest stars of our poetical constellation. Without being deficient in tenderness, he is more vigorous than sweet; without wanting ease and gracefulness, the portraiture of the loftier passions is evidently his forte. He can grasp the thunderbolt, or trifle with the lyre; and he has falsified, with many of the brighter and better spirits of the day, the hyperbolical assertion of Rasselas, "that no human being can ever be a poet." It would be difficult to find a poet, indeed, in whom the highest attributes of the divine art were more closely interwoven, or more completely identified. An imagination rich, copious, and varied — a command of language prodigal, exuberant, and whose boundary is only our vernacular tongue — to him are exposed the spirit and the mystery; he penetrates the depths and recesses of the human heart; and he unites the most vivid powers of description with the most felicitous talents for illustration.
He arrays the creations of an ethereal fancy in that robe of light and life, which is the truest indication of their birth-place — a mind raised above sordid and common-place realities, and purified of its "earthy" feelings, by dwelling on the eternal forms of beauty and perfection. It is his praise too (and we cannot iterate such praise too often, or award it too cordially), that the sun and centre, from which all these splendid rays diverge, is his fine healthy, moral, and religious feeling. We encounter no startling paradoxes; we are offended by no efforts of genius to give dignity to things in themselves debased. His strength is the energy of virtue — his gentleness is the meekness of Christianity — his anger is the remonstrance of truth. We would say, in a word, that the poetry of Mr. Croly is free, vigorous, and manly, and though essentially original, he unites the best and most prominent features of many poets whom the world delights to honour.
With these general impressions of Mr. Croly's poetry, we were gratified by the collected form in which it is now presented. The volumes contain the acknowledged productions of about seven years, from 1816 to 1823.
The principal poems in the collection are, Paris in 1815, in two parts; the Angel of the World; Illustrations of Gems; the dramatic poem of Catiline; and Sebastian.
With these are interspersed smaller poems, original or imitated, or translations, all beautiful of their kind. Of poetry that has received the stamp and seal of public admiration, it were now almost idle to speak; it is destined to take its place amongst the "permanent glories" of our language, and to be read and admired wherever that language is spoken, and its triumphs are cherished. These poems recommend themselves.