1776 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Richard Hurd

Chiaro Oscuro, "The Literary Portait of Dr. Hurd, the present Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry" Gentleman's Magazine 46 (March 1776) 115.



Dr. Hurd, the Bishop of Litchfield, is certainly one of the best criticks of the age, and though not like Longinus ("Who is himself that great sublime he draws,") nor can boast the depth and penetration of Aristotle; yet to go on with Pope — tho' "He steers securely" — I dare not add — "and discovers far:" The character of another critick, by the same poet, bears the nearest resemblance to Dr. Hurd:

In grave Quintilian's copious work we find,
The justest rules, and clearest method joined.

The Commentary and Notes upon Horace's Art of Poetry, and the Epistle to Augustus, will ever remain monuments of his taste, erudition, and critical sagacity; he is certainly accurate; and though I will not add with some literary snarlers, that he is cold too, yet I will venture to say, that his warmth of imagination, and high colouring, bear no proportion to those qualities in his Right Reverend friend.

If we allow more imagination to Dr. Warburton, we must, with equal justice, give more judgment, correct taste, accurate diction, and a clearer method of conveying his sentiments, than has perhaps fallen to the share of any of our present writers. It seldom happens where there is such accuracy and judgment, that the imagination is playful: but on the other hand, let us not conceive that the arguments and opinions of a judicious writer should necessarily be delivered coldly: the contrary is really the truth with regard to Dr. Hurd. He convinces with strength, and instructs with spirit: and though his prose is not so rich and figurative as his friend's; yet his feeling of the beauties of Shakespeare, and other poets, though not expressed with poetical rapture, yet it shews, that his heart can glow with the enthusiasm of genius, while his mind preserves its state, and is neither over-heated with the poet, or coldly phlegmatic with the mere commentator.

His manner, language, and perspicuity, are the models for critical writing. — When I have given this just praise to his observations upon Horace, I cannot bestow so much upon his Dissertation on the Province of the Drama; nor can I be allowed room enough here to produce the objections which I could oppose to his dramatic opinions. Sorry I am, too, that his Lordship's Select Works of Cowley have prevented us from acknowledging the superiority of his judgment upon that author. — Tho' he has cleared the works from many false thoughts, ill-placed wit, and great puerilities, yet surely he has deprived us of many fine flights of true poetry, and of some peculiar marks which distinguish him from every other poet. — What shall I say of his Lordship's Delicacy of Friendship? Tho' it is written with the keen and polished pen of a refined satirist, and not indeed with the double edged sword of my Lord of Gloucester, yet as it is supposed (tho' the friend might formerly be proud of giving this strong proof of his attachment and affection) that his Lordship would wish it to be forgotten, the painter of the Portrait has too great a regard for the real merits of the critic and the scholar, not to throw a veil over this part of his literary character.