1756 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nicholas Rowe

Joseph Warton, in Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (1756; 1782) 1:282-84.



Rowe's genius* was rather delicate and soft, than strong and pathetic; his compositions sooth us with a tranquil and tender sort of complacency, rather than cleave the heart with pangs and commiseration. His distresses are entirely founded on the passion of love. His diction is extremely elegant and chaste, and his versification highly melodious. His plays are declamations rather than dialogues, and his characters are general, and undistinguished from each other. Such a furious character as that of Bajazet, is easily drawn; and, let me add, easily acted. There is a want of unity in the fable of Tamerlane. The death's head, dead body, and stage hung in mourning, in the Fair Penitent, are artificial and mechanical methods of affecting an audience. In a word, his plays are musical and pleasing poems; but inactive and unmoving tragedies. This of Jane Shore is, I think, the most interesting and affecting of any he has given us: but probability is sadly violated in it by the neglect of the unity of time. For a person to be supposed to be starved, during the representation of five acts, is a striking instance of the absurdity of this violation. In this piece, as in all of Rowe, are many florid speeches utterly inconsistent with the state and situation of the distressful personages who speak them.

* There are however some images in Rowe strongly painted, such, particularly, as the following, which is worthy of Spenser, speaking of the Tower.

Methinks SUSPICION and DISTRUST dwell here,
"Staring" with "meagre" forms thro' "grated" windows.
Lady Jane Grey, Act II. Sc. II.