1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Campbell

Anonymous, in "Modern Poets: Mr. Campbell" The Scourge 10 (July 1815) 52-53.



Mr. Campbell has adopted [in Gertrude of Wyoming] a strange and inadmissible rule of composition which has long been a favourite with the minor order of versifiers. He seems to imagine that all liberties of construction which enable him to produce a well poised line, or a sounding stanza, are justified by their expedience. Every beauty of thought and diction is sacrificed to modulation. Grammar is violated, language is perverted, and all congruity of sentiment, or justice of description, disregarded, merely that the stanza may have its due succession of syllables and its regular number of rhymes. His manner is as uniform as it is unpleasing. The same sentiment is always expressed by the same words, and several successive stanzas appear to be unconscious plagiarism from each other. We do not remember any poem of which the vocabulary would be so scanty in comparison with its length. His descriptive passages have nothing of the vividness or justice of actual observation. He seems to have warmed his imagination with the beauties of American scenery, and the Arcadian innocence of trans-atlantic manners. What he felt so ardently he imagined that it was easy to describe; but his toil and anxiety have only rendered his poverty and frigid monotony of expression more evident and more repulsive. He speaks, it is true, of the Flamingo, the squirrel on his nut-brown tree, and the merry mock-bird, but so do Weld and Winterbotham, and he does not adorn the imitation by splendor of imagery, or tenderness of sentiment. Let him change his present system; and recur to the principles upon which the edifice of his early fame was so proudly erected. Another Gertrude would degrade him to a level with the Donnes and the Hayleys.