1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Anonymous, "Wordsworth" Philadelphia Repository and Weekly Register 4 (17 March 1804) 86.



WORDSWORTH'S boasted simplicity of style, is similar to the extemporaneous lines of Johnson, which he applied very appropriately to a poet of the same school:—

I put my hat upon my head,
And walk'd along the strand;
I there did meet another man,
With his hat in his hand.

Such poetasters, when they would ape the sublime, are not unlike the sublime of sir Peter Teazle, in the "School for Scandal." Every reader of taste must be rapt up in reading it. Here it is:—

Sure never were seen two such beautiful ponies,
Other horses are clowns, but these macaronies;
To give them this title I'm sure is not wrong,
Their legs are so slim and their tails are so long.

If the present rage for elegant simplicity continue, we may shortly expect to see the vapid effusions of some imitators of WORDSWORTH, substituted for the poetry of Dryden and Pope; and the dry creeping prosaic numbers of WORDSWORTH, for the most celebrated poems of antiquity. Mankind are constantly running into extremes. If Darwin's verse is loaded with meretricious and redundant ornaments, does it follow that all ornament is to be laid aside as useless and superfluous? Ought the chaste, though rich and magnificence verse of Thomson, to be less esteemed than the arid lays of some modern bards, who have excited so much temporary applause? There is an essential and everlasting difference between comely and appropriate ornament, such as marked the poetry of Goldsmith, for example, and the tawdry finery of Della Crusca, or the bloated and compound epithets of Darwin. Why does every reader of taste so much admire Campbell's Pleasures of Hope? The beauties of this poem are irresistibly captivating, because, to the most striking sentiments and poetical imagery are superadded the best selected words, and in fact, all the graces of style. The most important truths should be clothed in a suitable manner, or the effects will be lost. An affected fondness for poverty of language is extended by many to poverty of ideas, and the poem where Peter Piper picks the peck of pepper, is quite the thing, and exactly to their taste.