1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Hopkinson

Anonymous, in "Biographical Sketch of Francis Hopkinson, Esq." The Casket [Philadelphia] NS 2 (March 1829) 98-99.



The person of Mr. Hopkinson was a little below the common size. His features were small but extremely animated. His speech was quick, and all his motions seemed to partake of the unceasing activity and versatility of the powers of his mind.

In the character of a poet Mr. Hopkinson has been already noticed. The structure of his verse was not deficient in smoothness: and if it lacked the fire which brings within its irresistible influence the whole empire of human feeling, there was a breath of piety, a moral cheerfulness diffused through its cadences, which is more than sufficient to disarm criticism of its severity. His was the poetry of the heart, and by the heart alone it should be judged.

His skill in music was of a higher order. Eight of his own songs he harmonized, and the simple melody and correct taste displayed in the composition, gave them a passport to general favor. He also invented a now mode of quilling a harpsichord, to obviate the inequalities and unpleasantness in the touch of the instrument, caused by the frequent failures of the common crow-quill. A description of this improvement, with an engraving, appeared in the Columbian Magazine for May, 1787.

But the proper sphere of his genius was humorous and satirical literature. The same attractive piquancy which gave so high a relish to his conversation, uniformly seasoned the productions of his pen. The same writer who has declared him, in this respect, unsurpassed, even by Lucian, Swift, and Rabelais, proceeds to state that "newspaper scandal, frequently for months together, disappeared or languished after the publication of several of his irresistible satires upon that disgraceful species of writing. He gave a currency to a thought or phrase, in these effusions from his pen, which never failed to bear down the spirit of the times, and frequently to turn the divided tides of party rage into one general channel of ridicule or contempt."