1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Dyer

Edward Mangin, in A View of the Pleasures arising from Books: in Letters to a Lady (1814) 219-25.



What I have observed respecting poetical suggestions, does not so readily admit of being illustrated by examples; indeed the attempt would be superfluous; as every one who reads must feel that it is impossible to avoid associating with any given topic the remembrance of a great variety of thoughts collected from distant sources: and to expatiate on this principle of association would lead us too far.

But with regard to the application of an author's sentiments to the actual circumstances in which we may be occasionally placed, I shall endeavour to be more particular; and chiefly for the sake of referring to a composition which not only abounds in what have been admired as fine poetical ideas, but contains, in as great profusion as any celebrated poem we possess, such passages as apply directly to view, of rural nature in England; and this is Dyer's Grongar Hill: of which Johnson says, "The scenes it displays are so pleasing, the images which they raise so welcome, and the reflections of the writer so consonant to the general sense and experience of mankind that when it is once read, it will be read again." This is just, but cold. The taste which could relish Grongar Hill, would indulge in a constant recollection of it; but Johnson, as it is known, had defective eye-sight, and was on that account alone an incompetent judge of the beauties of Grongar Hill.

He could not enjoy the extent and magnificence of rural views and had probably never conceived the notion of comparing Dyer's powers of description with reality: it is, however, in this respect only that the poem is here introduced.

Were a critique on the composition intended, I should, instead of venturing upon any observations of my own, rather choose to make use of a very ingenious article, in a volume of the European Magazine, with the signature "Heranio," in which the writer has compared Grongar Hill, as it now is, with the poem first published under that title in 1726; the year before Lewis's miscellany appeared. It was originally what is termed a pindaric ode, with some obscurities, and a few trivial faults of another kind, which it still preserves; but the general opinion would perhaps be in favor of the measure last adopted, as better suited to description than that of the irregular ode. Most persons would be displeased to find Milton's L'Allegro, which it resembles, transformed into pindaric measure.

Grongar Hill is full of the most agreeable pictures which can be presented to the eye of imagination, and these drawn with so much truth, that the reader fancies he has often and in many different places seen the same glorious assemblage of natural charms; "Vistas shooting beams of day;" woods and meads; the gay and cloudless landscape, spreading beneath, and viewed from the mountain's brow—

Old castles on the cliffs arise,
Proudly towering in the skies!
Rushing from the woods, the spires
Seem from hence ascending fires;
Half his beams Apollo sheds
On the yellow mountain-heads,
Gilds the fleeces of the flocks,
And glitters on the broken rocks!

This is not only incomparable painting, but of that kind which suffers nothing by being repeatedly exhibited, and the verses might be recited daily with pleasure as undiminished as that with which we could behold the scene they describe. Both to it, and Grongar Hill, may be applied a couplet from the poem itself:

Ever charming, ever new,
When will the landscape tire the view!

—never — until the human heart and human eyes are fatigued with the blessings which God, in his boundless benevolence, has poured forth for the indulgence of man: never — until we cease to be pleased with the green raiment of the earth, the blush of the rose, the fresh blowing air, the fountain's fall, — the river's flow; never — till we are tired of viewing "this universal frame, thus wond'rous fair," and are grown forgetful of the divine hand that formed it.