1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir James Bland Burges

John Aikin?, in "Retrospect of Domestic Literature" The Monthly Magazine 11 (Supplement, 1801) 604.



They who have read the beautiful Poem which appeared some time ago, on the Birth and Triumph of Love, must have felt a consciousness that the author enjoyed capacities for far loftier and more extensive flights in the regions of poesy.

Sir James Burges has now shown that this flattering anticipation was not ill-founded: his Richard the First, a Poem, in Eighteen Books; though not denominated epic by the author himself, has certainly fair claims to the title, both from its matter and construction. The heroic achievements of the First Richard, the Lion-hearted Champion of the Cross — his chequered fortunes — his melancholy captivity, and his triumphant restoration, are narrated with the requisite unity. Sir James Burges has adopted the very difficult stanza of "Spenser," which he seems to manage with uncommon facility; his variations in the pause and cadence are made with such peculiar skill and judgment, that the frequent recurrence of the rhymes, far from producing a monotonous and unpleasing effect on the ear, is grateful, and by no means immelodious. The Poem, however, has its faults as well as its beauties; if among the latter are to be classed several very striking and original similies, among the former must be censured demoniacal interference in the concerns of mortals. The personifications of human propensities and passions brought unwillingly to our recollection the Henriade: if we have the "Demon of Discord" in the one, we have "False Philosophy" in the other, exciting the subjects of Richard to rebellion against his Government. In the twelfth book also, (where these Jacobinical Devils make their appearance) we have a regular Dissertation between the hero of the piece and Belial, under the form of the Demagogue Baldcock; and False Philosophy not only foretells her future triumphs in France and the successful resistance of Great Britain to her machinations, but absolutely alludes to the active part taken by Mr. Pitt in the contest! This is too much: whatever be his political tenets, we cannot but think that a sound critic will unite in the opinion with us, that Sir James Burges should have concealed the cloven foot: the Poet should certainly have taken care not to remind us, that he had been Under Secretary of State for the Foreign Department. A second edition of this beautiful poem will, doubtless, be speedily demanded, and if the author has but perseverance to bestow on it an accurate revision, and courage enough to expunge all party politics and allusions, he may, with much facility, make such improvements as to render it one of the best which modern times have produced.