1839 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bryan Waller Procter

J. F. O., in Review of Procter, Works of Ben Jonson; Southern Literary Messenger [Richmond] 5 (April 1839) 268.



The leading article in the last number of Blackwood's Magazine, is a notice of this edition of Jonson, and a most unjustifiable, unworthy, unmanly "notice" it is. It is an unmethodized, desultory, incoherent compilation of personal allusions, end flings, against the author of the "Memoir:" and forms another chapter in the long list of "Quarrels of Authors." Among other things Wilson takes occasion to say of the book before us:

"BEN JONSON by Barry Cornwall!" — One of the greatest of English poets, patronised by one of her smallest poetasters!" "BEN JONSON by Barry Cornwall! — An eagle heralded by a wren; or is it absolutely a tom-tit?" &c. &c.

The whole of the article is written in the spirit of which these scraps are fair specimens, and the conviction on the mind of the reader as he lays down the critic, after a perusal of the "Memoir," is irresistible, — that a personal motive lies at the foundation of the assault. There is not a line of fair criticism in the article. It is, throughout, captious, querulous, inconsequential, and pointless.

Some few years have gone by, since Barry Cornwall wrote a biographical memoir of John Keats, in which he took occasion to allude in terms of becoming severity to the course that had been pursued towards that promising poet, by certain critics: among these, Blackwood's Magazine came in for its share, and the epithets, "venal, vulgar, and venomous," were, if we remember rightly, applied to the critique upon Keats, which appeared in the pages of that work. From that time to this, Barry Cornwall has been a marked man, and has not been permitted to raise so much as his head above water, without forming a target for the swiftest and most envenomed arrows, in the quiver of old Christopher. We all remember how his "Life of Kean" was cut up in "Maga," — and it is but just what was to have been expected, neither more nor less, that precisely such a notice of the work before us should appear in Blackwood, as that which we have been noticing.