1762 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Richard Hurd

Edward Gibbon, in Abstract of my Readings, 1762; Miscellaneous Works (1837) 408-09.



Devizes, Feb. 8th, 1762. — Mr. HURD, the supposed author of this performance [Horatian Epistles], is one of those valuable authors who cannot be read without improvement. To a great fund of well-digested reasoning, he adds a clearness of judgment, and a niceness of penetration, capable of taking things from their first principles, and observing their most minute differences. I know few writers more deserving of the great, though prostituted name, of critic; but, like many critics, he is better qualified to instruct, than to execute. His manner appears to me harsh and affected, and his style clouded with obscure metaphors, and needlessly perplexed with expressions exotic, or technical. His excessive praises (not to give them a harsher name) of a certain living critic and divine, disgust the sensible reader, as much as the contempt affected for the same person, by many who are very unqualified to pass a judgment upon him.

Horace's Art of Poetry, generally deemed an unconnected set of precepts, without unity of design or method, appears, under Mr. Hurd's hands, an attempt to reform the Roman stage, conducted with an artful plan, and carried on through the most delicate transitions. This plan is unravelled in Mr. Hurd's Commentary. If ever those transitions appear too finely spun, the concealed art of epistolary freedom will sufficiently account for it. The least Mr. Hurd must convince of, is, that, if Horace had any plan, it was that which he has laid down. Every part of dramatic poetry is treated of, even to the satires and the atellanes; its metre, subject, characters, chorus, explained and distinguished. The rest of the epistle contains those precepts of unity of design, accuracy of composition, &c. which, though not peculiar to the dramatic poet, are yet as necessary to him as to any other.