1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hazlitt

Richard Henry Dana, in Review of Hazlitt's English Poets; North American Review [Boston] 8 (March 1819) 281-82.



This work is divided into eight lectures. — The introductory one is on poetry in general; the three following on six only of the older poets ending, with Pope, and bringing us to the middle of the volume; and the remaining four, first taking up Thompson and Cowper, close with criticisms on the living poets. Though Mr. Hazlitt has not gone into the subject with that fulness with which we have just intimated that it should be considered, nor followed down the poetry of his country through its changes, as perhaps connected with and brought about by the alterations in society, nor wrought into his work old anecdote, which could be put to uses as instructive as entertaining, — we would still make no objection to his book had he carried out his own plan. But from aught we can learn from Mr. Hazlitt, Chaucer and Spenser, Shakspeare and Milton, Dryden and Pope, were about all the poets that lived from the days of the heptarchy to the end of Queen Anne. We should not care to have a lecture devoted to Pierce Plouman, but we did expect to meet with the names, and something more than the names, of Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Otway and Allan Ramsay, (the Gentle Shepherd) who certainly are not so out of date that one need fear being thought pedantic should he venture to talk upon them. If Mr. Hazlitt knows any thing about them, or has the good taste to relish their beauties, he might have found much in Surrey, Wyatt, Drayton, Browne, P. Fletcher, Daniel, Donne and others, whom we need not name, as they are easily turned to, which he could have pointed out to his readers as well worth their looking into. The inferior order among the old poets differ from the moderns of the same class in having amidst all their lameness and dulness, beauties choice enough to repay us for the toil of our search. As to his omissions among the modern poets, we have little to censure, with the exception of Beattie, and let us add Hogg, with all his inequalities. Had he stopt short of the living poets, he would have left us with more favourable impressions of his taste, and what is of more worth, of his good feelings.