1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nathaniel Lee

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 60-61.



From on original Drawing formerly in the Collection of the late J. P. Kemble, Esq.

What a fine staring head of LEE is this — "Nat Lee!" What a bold front he has, and a wild eye, as mad as March! He dwelt in a tempest of words, and tossed the ten syllables from his quill with as much fury as Pindar himself. No image was too great for him, no words too big. He could out-roar the ocean, and pull down the raging thunder. His verse is full-blown, and distorted; and his images, built up to the clouds and out of architectural proportions, seem ready to topple upon our heads as we gaze at them. Notwithstanding all this, Lee had great power and merit. We are too apt to class him with Pistol, and cry down his plays as a mere waste of words. They possess, on the contrary, great character, great spirit, and occasionally great pathos. Were they weeded of their rank and turgid common places, and the healthy laurel left to grow alone, Lee would surprise many of his inferiors who now take upon themselves to condemn him. His tragedies are, beyond comparison, better than those of Dryden, or indeed any of his cotemporaries. We except the play of Venice Preserved alone. Lee was unhappily subject to insanity; and his malady is evident in the very striking likeness which we have luckily had it in our power to make public.