1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Gates Percival

Anonymous, in Review of Percival, Poems; United States Literary Gazette [Boston] 1 (15 June 1824) 66.



Mr. Percival certainly exhibits poetical powers very far above the ordinary range. He possesses in an eminent degree that quality which includes both the sensibility of the poet, and the taste of the mere artist. The sensibility may exist without the taste, and the reader will be shocked as often as he is delighted. The taste may exist without the sensibility, and the reader will at best be pleased with a cold, inanimate beauty which smiles him to sleep. Where the two coexist in happy union, their joint production cannot but touch the feelings and satisfy the judgment, although it may not reach those bolder flights of poetic fervour, which crowd the imagination with things of more than mortal birth, and lead it to riot in its native empyreal realms. We cannot say that the general character of Mr. Percival's poetry, as exhibited in the book before us, is of this sublimated cast, although there are passages which betray much depth of feeling and power of expression. It has been said of poetry, that to possess moderate excellence in the art is to want its very essence; as if not to be beyond all praise were to be wholly unworthy of regard; — and there is as much of truth in this observation as in most general rules affecting matters of taste. But there are, nevertheless, different walks of poetry, which are to be trodden with a different step. We do not look for dithyrambic fury in the song of Melpomene, nor expect to see pastoral softness in the tragic buskin. Cowper and Thompson never reach the sublimity of Dryden, or the gloomy grandeur of Byron; yet who will say they were not poets? So Percival leave us behind him when he urges his flight into unknown worlds, but takes us entirely with him while he is content to tread the flowery meads and dark vallies of this earth, and mingle in the tender scenes of domestic life.