1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Fairfax

J. C. Gray, in "Fairfax's Tasso" North American Review [Boston] 14 (January 1822) 87.



This work was first published, as we are informed in a life of the author prefixed to the edition before us, A.D. 1600, and was so popular at that moment, that it was immediately incorporated with the works of the most celebrated British poets, in a compilation, called England's Parnassus. It must soon have ceased however to be generally admired, for it passed through only three more editions from that time to the year 1817, and in all these is said to have been materially disfigured, by unwarrantable alterations; a liberty, which had it been taken with a work of high and extensive popularity, could not have so long remained unnoticed. Indeed, the biographer to whom we have already referred, and who exhibits no little degree of the enthusiastic attachment generally felt by editors for their authors, has been able to collect no testimony of any weight in favor of Fairfax, except a few remarks from Dryden, a single sentence from Hume, and a stanza from Collins. Dryden merely calls Fairfax the poetical father of Waller, a compliment of far less value at present, than at the time when it was paid; and Hume contents himself with a short and guarded encomium on his elegance and exactness. For the opinion of the "learnedly beautiful Collins," as the editor styles him, we refer our readers to the ode on highland superstitions. We are informed indeed, that king James preferred Fairfax to any other poet, and that king Charles II amused himself, while in prison, by reading his Tasso; but it is not very probable that these stories, if correct, would be unsupported by any other respectable authority, than that of Brian Fairfax, one of the poet's descendants, who might naturally and excusably believe them on the slightest evidence. There is every reason, in short, to conclude, that however highly the work before us may have been appreciated by a few distinguished scholars, it was as little known to most readers of English poetry during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as Jonson's Horace or Sandy's Ovid.