1811
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[To Walter Savage Landor, 11 January 1811.]

Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey. 6 Vols

Robert Southey


Robert Southey takes polite umbrage at Walter Savage Landor's dislike of Spenser, and declares his admiration for Chaucer and early English poetry.

William Hazlitt: "He [Southey] is scholastic and professional in his ideas. He sets more value on what he writes than what he says: he is perhaps prouder of his library than of his own productions — themselves a library!" Spirit of the Age (1825) 381.

Robert Southey: "Going with a relation into Bull's circulating library at Bath, (an excellent one for those days), and asking whether they had the Faery Queen, the person who managed the shop said, 'yes, they had it, but it was in obsolete language, and the young gentleman would not understand it.' But I, who had learned all I then knew of the history of England from Shakespear, and who had moreover read Beaumont and Fletcher, found no difficulty in Spenser's English, and felt in the beauty of his versification a charm in poetry of which I had never been fully sensible before. From that time I took Spenser for my master" Preface to Poetical Works (1837) 1:viii.




Your abhorrence of Spenser is a strange heresy. I admit that he is inferior to Chaucer (who for variety of power has no competitor except Shakespeare), but he is the great master of English versification, incomparably the greatest master in our language. Without being insensible to the defects of the Fairy Queen, I am never weary of reading it. Surely Chaucer is as much a poet as it was possible for him to be when the language was in so rude a state. There seems to be this material point of difference between us, — you think we have little poetry which was good for any thing before Milton; I, that we have little since, except in our own immediate days. I do not say there was much before, but what there was, was sterling verse in sterling English. At present, the surest way to become popular is to have as little of either ingredient as possible. . . .


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