1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Felicia Hemans

Anonymous, in Review of Hemans, Forest Sanctuary; Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature NS 2 (May 1828) 332.



Though not possessing the strength and energy of Lord Byron, nor the exquisite polish of Campbell, the poetry of Mrs. Hemans is often forcible, and always elegant in its diction. It abounds in beautiful and harmonious lines, and in descriptions of characters and feelings, intermingled with sketches of natural scenery, which shew that she is, what every poetry ought to be, an enthusiastic admirer of the beauties of nature. She excels also in giving, in a single line, a slight touch, which, like the first sketch of a masterly artist, brings to the mind much more than actually meets the eye. Another distinguishing beauty in Mrs. Hemans' poems is, that they are never disfigured by any of that affectation of simplicity and singularity of style which many of our modern poets have assumed: nor has she been often betrayed into the opposite extreme, — a redundancy of ornament and profusion of epithets. Occasionally, perhaps, she is a little too ornate in her language, but this is not often the case; and even where her epithets may be thought too numerous, they are generally well chosen and suitable to the subject. With the single exception of Mrs. Barbauld, we should, perhaps, place Mrs. Hemans above any of the female poets with whose works we are acquainted. Between the two writers, it is perhaps, however, unfair to draw any comparison; for they have pursued such very different tracks, that there hardly seems any point at which they approach near enough to be viewed together. Mrs. Barbauld's path was on more elevated ground: her compositions were of a higher and graver cast: in devotional poetry she never has been, and probably never will be, excelled. We know of few, if any poems in the English language, which are superior, either in a warm spirit of devotion, or in true poetical feeling, to her Address to the Deity, and Summer Evening Meditation. Mrs. Hemans pursues a more humble course; her poetry is addressed to a lighter and more numerous class of readers, and she seldom, if ever, attempts the more elevated strain of moral and devotional poetry. She generally adopts some slight story as her groundwork, and beautifies and adorns it with her own ideas, imagery, and poetical descriptions. Her chief elegance lies, perhaps, in this, that she seems to know her own strength and powers; and has the good sense and taste not to attempt anything beyond them. But though her poems are not professedly on religious subjects, there is a fervid glow of devotional feeling pervading most of them, which entitles them to a higher rank than to be considered as the mere vehicles of an amusing story. This is particularly the case with the one more immediately under our consideration, the Forest Sanctuary.