1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Trumbull

Anonymous, in "Trumbull's Works" Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine 3 (September 1820) 86-89.



We have promised a few remarks upon the school of poetry, in which Trumbull, Dwight, Barlow, Humphreys, and some others who were educated at Yale College, formed themselves. This school is that of Pope, or the artificial as distinguished from the natural. They are not equal to their master, or their model, but they have sought, in their serious and dignified verse, to balance the lines according to the taste of their favorite school. Their poetry is too laboured, or rather shows the labor too much. It is too monotonous, too imitative, too scholastic, and too dry and hard. The writers have not studied nature and the heart enough for themselves, but have copied too much the general expressions, images, and epithets, which have been handed down in books. They are stiff in the corsets made in the artificial school, and their motions are constrained and heavy. They have good thoughts, good sentiments, good imagery, and in the main good words, but these materials are not well put together, or at least they are not poetically, easily, passionately, and affectingly put together. The fire, feeling, pathos, and simplicity have escaped in the mechanical labor of versification. They are too fond of uncommon participles, such indeed as often have no authority, as "guised" — "unioned" — and many others which give a forced and harsh character to their style. They have great and decided excellencies, and exquisite passages may be selected in abundance from each of them. They have more imagination than taste, more good sense than poetical feeling, more understanding than passion, more patience and perseverance than inspiration and spontaneous genius. They are too verbose, and have too many epithets, such epithets as others have used before them time immemorial. They want more originality, an individual mode of thinking and feeling, the animation and pathos even of that School so often ridiculed, the Lake School. Byron, Moore, Hunt, Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, think, feel, write, and triumph, each in his own way, with his own individual and peculiar character, and as though art and learning had no power to change or generalize the natural passions and sentiments of the soul. We admire Pope, but he is always in the professed and established livery of the Muses. The members of the Lake School instruct, excite, alarm, or melt us, when we are not warned of their being about to make any attempt; when we see little or none of the form and parade of the poet about them, when we meet them in the simple and ordinary relations of life. Pope's verse has the stateliness and dignity of the manners of the olden time, those of Sir Charles Grandison and Lady Harriet, but the verse of the modern school has the nature, simplicity, force, variety, and pathos of the personages in the novels of Walter Scott. We still like to read Richardson, and have no idea of abandoning him or Pope, but we are more excited and impressed by Scott, and find more of the soul of poetry in Byron. Fashion and novelty have undoubtedly some influence upon us in this respect, and we will not pretend to say that we shall always feel as decided a preference as we do now. But we are sure that we shall never cease to acknowledge the excellencies of each school of poetry. We shall indeed distrust our taste when we cannot admire Pope, and our capacity for emotion when we cannot be roused and captivated by Byron.

The poets of Connecticut now mentioned are disciples of the old manner, and bear a great resemblance to each other, in their descriptions. They all have a great deal of verbal amplification, and endeavour to fill out the impression by sounding epithets. The rhetorical labor is too apparent. Specimens of this may be given.

DWIGHT'S CONQUEST OF CANAAN.
But now the approaching clarion's "dreadful" sound
Denounces flight, and shakes the "banner'd" ground. (p. 196.)

No more the "foaming" steeds could trace their way
So thick the squadrons wedg'd their "black" array;
Loud tumults roar, the "clouded" heavens resound,
And "deep" convulsions heave the "labouring" ground. (p. 198.)

"Loud as old" ocean beats the "rocky" shore,
"Loud" as the storm's "deep-bursting" thunders roar,
"Vast" shouts unrolling rend the "etherial" round,
Trembles all heaven, and shakes the "gory" ground. (ibid.)

The "nodding" forests plunge in flame around,
And with "huge" caverns gapes the "shuddering" ground. (p. 302.)

TRUMBULL, VOLUME II.
And hosts "infuriate" shake the "shuddering" plain. (p. 94.)
Their shades shall wake, and from the "gory" ground. (p. 96.)
Conflicting thousands shake the "shuddering" ground. (p. 101.)
Dire forms sprang flaming from the "reeking" ground. (p. 196.)

BARLOW'S VISION OF COLUMBUS.
The smoke convolv'd, the thunders rock'd around,
And the "brave" hero press'd the "gory" ground." (Book 5, p. 172.)
Now roll like "winged" storms the "lengthening lines." (p. 174.)
The clouds rise "reddening" round the "dreadful" height. (ibid.)
Till the "dark folding" wings together drive,
And, "ridg'd" with fires, and "rock'd" with thunders, strive. (Book 6, p. 192.)

HUMPRHEYS TO THE ARMIES OF AMERICA.
The tide of slaughter stain'd the "sanguine" ground."
Roll'd the "wild" eye, and gnaw'd the "anguish'd" tongue.

ELEGY ON THE BURNING OF FAIRFIELD.
Long "dusky" wreathes of smoke reluctant driven
In "blackening" volumes o'er the landscape bend.
Clouds ting'd with dies "intolerably" bright.
The "umber'd" streams in "purple" pomp ascend.

These lines are quoted, not to show that the epithets are improper, but to illustrate our remark concerning the manner in which the sound is filled out, and the laboring motion of the verse, the similarity between the differing versifiers, and the evidence that they all formed themselves upon books of poetry more than upon nature and passion. Their poetical works however, were eminently useful at the time to the cause of the belles lettres and to taste, and specimens of great excellence may be selected from each. They were men of high minds, pure morals, and ardent patriotism.