1792 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Hopkinson

Anonymous, Review of Hopkinson, Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings; Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine [Philadelphia] 9 (August 1792) 111-12.



Most of the essays contained in these volumes were formerly published in detail; and many of them were so generally admired at the time, as to establish the literary reputation of the author, and procure him a large portion of well-earned fame. This collection, therefore, cannot fail to be well received by the citizens of the united states, who will long continue to revere the memory of Mr. H. whose distinguished talents were exerted to promote the best interests of his country, in the most trying emergencies. His writings show him to have been an early, an active, and a persevering whig; and a powerful advocate for the establishment of our present form of government. Some of his most valuable performances on political subjects are in the allegorical form, a mode of writing in which he has been equalled by few.

The subjects of these essays being almost as various as the essays themselves are numerous, we shall not so far descend to particulars, as to attempt to give an account of the several pieces. Nor does such minuteness appear necessary, when we consider that the writings and literary character of the author are very generally known. Suffice it to observe, generally, that the leading characteristics of Mr. Hopkinson's writings are, extraordinary versatility of genius, combined with extensive science; brilliancy of imagination, connected with a sound judgment and good taste; and genuine humour, uncontaminated by that low and trifling species of wit, which can yield pleasure to none but vulgar and frivolous minds.

We are informed, in a note prefixed to the first volume, that the several pieces were prepared for the press by the author, before his death; and that they are now published from his manuscripts, in the dress in which he left them. But had he lived to superintend the publication of them himself, we think it probable that he would either have revised or expunged some of them, which were written to answer purposes of a temporary nature, and others, in which particular characters are severely satirized. In our opinion, these cast a shade over the splendour of his works. In justice to the memory of Mr. H. we shall state one fact, which supports our opinion, that sundry alterations would have been made, had he lived to revisit his literary productions. The editor of a daily paper, which was established in this city some time after the publication of Mr. Hopkinson's celebrated allegory of "The New Roof," applied to him for a correct copy of that performance, which he proposed to insert in his gazette. Mr. H. complied with his request; but was particularly careful to strike out the concluding observations, in which he had burlesqued the ravings of a declamatory writer, in the public papers. This was certainly a judicious and laudable omission. For, besides that the name of the declamatory writer alluded to had become publicly known, the force and beauty of the allegory were diminished, by a conclusion which was beneath the dignity of that inimitable performance, and which had no immediate connection with it. And yet the allegory is now published in its original form; and accompanied with the essay which is the subject of the burlesque.

Of these volumes, the first and second consist of miscellaneous prose; the third commences with judgments given by Mr. Hopkinson, in the admiralty of Pennsylvania, and concludes with his poetical writings.