1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Campbell

Anonymous, in "On the Genius of Thomas Campbell" Edinburgh Magazine NS 3 (August 1818) 145.



Waller is said to have given our versification sweetness, and Denham to have added strength. Campbell has wonderfully improved on both. His style, however, he has not borrowed, but created; — it is peculiarly his own; — and, though it has since been often attempted, it has never been equalled. His heroic verse, though it resembles the Darwinian model, infinitely surpasses it in chasteness, and propriety, cadency, and elevation. When the sense is low and trifling, the one endeavours to sustain it by the sound; the other balances the expression with the sentiment; thus they lend, and receive a mutual aid, like the iris formed by, and reflecting back the sunshine. His Spenserian stanza has not the most distant resemblance to that of any other preceding author. There is more nice balancing, and more delicate inflections in its construction, and more care and assiduity about the mode of expression, than are to be found in the Castle of Indolence, the Minstrel, or Childe Harold, combined with a peculiar tone of delightful pathos and purity, which irresistibly, though with silken fetters, hurries us back to the days of patriarchal benevolence, pastoral innocence, and simplicity. Perhaps Campbell has sacrificed in this way a little too freely to the graces, and has exchanged somewhat too much of his nervous and manly eloquence for feminine beauty; but it should be recollected, that it was in the attempt to infuse unaffected passion into the most difficult stanza in our language, that the endeavour was made; and the dying words of "beloved Gertrude" are at once a manifold exculpation, and a proof of his success.