1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Kirke Paulding

G., in Review of Paulding, The Backwoodsman; American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review [New York] 4 (January 1819) 176.



We have now concluded our analysis of the Backwoodsman, and, by the length as well as number of our extracts, shown the high respect we entertain for the genius of the author. As a descriptive poet we think he occupies a high rank, and on himself it depends whether he become one of event and character. The great and obvious fault of his poetry is the wilful introduction of low and vulgar terms, and this not infrequently in passages otherwise distinguished for their beauty and vigour. These it would be invidious to mention otherwise than cursorily. Yet there is another charge which it is our duty to bring against Mr. Paulding — his violations of grammar — neither shall we enumerate these; to a man of his powers it is sufficient to "hint a fault," and we have no doubt that a second edition of his poem will present us with considerable improvement in these respects.

There is one point on which we could wish to make a few observations — The desire and aim of American literati to produce a national poem or poems; and they seem to think that not effecting this, they do nothing. Now this, we esteem a most mistaken ambition. How many countries have produced national poems? — but two in ancient, and in modern times (without indeed Dante be named as a national poet) three; assuredly neither Tasso, Ariosto, nor Milton, can lay claim to the title, and Dryden abandoned the story of his country as unsuitable to epic strains — It is sufficient to the country, if the poem be the production of native talent — The identity of the subject and characters with the country of the author, we consider a matter of minor importance.