1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Robinson

Leigh Hunt, in Review of Dyce, Specimens of British Poetesses; The Companion (2 July 1828) 374-76.



MRS. ROBINSON, formerly mistress of the present King, appears to have been a complete victim of circumstances. She was married at fifteen; her husband turned out extravagant and profligate; she continued faithful, and the birth of a child made her doubly wish to love him; but he tired her out, being in fact of a cast of mind unworthy to associate with hers. Meantime she went on the stage; the wits and fine gentlemen came about her; royalty itself, aided by the attractions of youth and a fine person, paid her its homage; and her beauty, her vanity, her accomplishments, and even her heart, all conspired to make her give way.

Here now was a case for which society ought to have made provision; but there was none. Mrs. Robinson, with a genial temperament and a poetical fancy, had to choose between the rigid self-denial exacted of women by the other sex, and all those natural pleasures of her youth to which the most rigid of those exactors ire the first to tempt them. She chose, and "fell."

Let those, who with equal beauty, fancy, and temptation, have practised the denial, be the first to cast a stone at her; or rather let persons of the very reverse description do it; for the others will certainly not. We are not for blaming the King on her account. He was young, and beset with temptations likewise; and princes are not expected to practise self-denial, though princesses are. That is the harshest word we would say on the occasion. We do not conceive that the King is abstractedly opposed to the growth of any liberal opinion; and that is saying much. But for everybody's sake, princes and princesses included, some reformation on these points is ardently to be desired, and will ere long, we think, be demanded by the voice of the community.

Mrs. Robinson's verses are not much; but there is a Sonnet in the present volume, which besides having a merit of its own, resembling the best sonnets of the second-rate Italian cultivators of that species of poem, acquires a deeper interest from the evident allusion it bears to her own history.

SONNET.
High on a rock, coeval with the skies,
A temple stands, rear'd by immortal powers
To Chastity divine! Ambrosial flowers
Twining round icicles, in columns rise,
Mingling with pendent gems of orient dyes!
Piercing the air, a golden crescent towers
Veil'd by transparent clouds; while smiling hours
Shake from their varying wings celestial joys!
The steps of spotless marble scatter'd o'er
With deathless roses arm'd with many a thorn,
Lead to the altar. On the frozen floor,
Studded with tear-drops petrified by scorn,
Pale vestals kneel the Goddess to adore,
While Love, his arrows broke, retires forlorn.

On the subject of the Della Cruscan school, of which Mrs. Robinson was a suffering sister, Mr. Dyce observes very, well, that "a whip would have been a sufficiently formidable weapon to have scared them from the fields of song, but Mr. Gifford pursued them with a drawn sword, cut them to pieces, and exulted over the slaughter." Unfortunately, he cut not only butterflies, but suffering women to pieces. It was this man, if man he is to be called, who not daring to lift up a finger at anything great or powerful, thought to get a reputation for wit and virtue by waylaying their discarded mistresses, and striking a blow at poor Mrs. Robinson's rheumatism and crutches! He got his reputation among people as slavish and half-witted as himself; but it lingers now only among book-makers and other "artificers" in literature, and will very speedily be unheard of. He was a clever man in his way; but his way was one of those which lead to nothing but a man's own advancement; and when he disappears, the path is merged in the common high-way, and its dirt and himself alike forgotten.