1713
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Examiner Examin'd.

The Examiner Examin'd. In a Letter to the Englishman: occasion'd by the Examiner of Friday Dec. 18. 1713. upon the Canto of Spencer.

Rev. Samuel Croxall


Samuel Croxall's anonymous riposte to the Tory response to his Original Canto of Spenser (1713) comments on the antiquity of satire, burlesque, and faction. Since such periodical disputes usual turned on readings of Latin authors, it is notable to see the disputants looking for ammunition in medieval literature: "as for Robert Langland, the Author of Pierce Plowman, the EXAMINER, was he able to read a word of him, might make a Nestor Ironside, or what he pleas'd of him, for his whole Book is nothing but a Church and State poem...."

Political passions were running particularly high at this period, and Croxall's Original Canto of Spencer had severely lashed the corruption in the Harley administration in his imitation of Spenser.

Vindication of the Press: or, an Essay on the Usefulness of Writing: "The Question first ask'd is, whether an Author is a Whig or a Tory; if he be a Whig, or that Party which is in Power, his Praise is resounded, he's presently cried up for an excellent Writer; if not, he's mark'd as a Scoundrel, a perpetual Gloom hangs over his Head; if he was Master of the sublime Thoughts of Addison, the easy flowing Numbers of Pope, the fine Humour of Garth, the beautiful Language of Rowe, the Perfection of Prior, the Dialogue of Congreve, and the Pastoral of Phillips, he must nevertheless submit to a mean Character, if not expect the Reputation of an Illiterate" (1718) 18-19.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Samuel Croxall, D.D., died 1752, educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, Archdeacon of Salup, &c. The Fair Circassian, Lon., 1720, 4to; later edits. in 12mo. Fables of Aesop and others, translated into English, 1722. Very popular. Sermons, 1715-41. Scripture Politics, 1735, 8vo. He also wrote some poems, and edited the collection of Select Novels and Histories, from the French, Italian, and Spanish, printed for Watts, Lon., 1729, 6 vols. 12mo. There was no want of variety in Croxall's literary pursuits" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:456.




Sir,

As you have often agreed with me in my Opinion of the mean, dull, incoherent, unintelligible Manner in which most of the EXAMINERS are penn'd; so I remember you have always said, you thought this declamatory Author never shew'd himself a Blockhead in so clear a Light as when he ventur'd to touch upon any Subject that had the least Relation to the Belles Lettres; and this I think you made sufficiently plain in his Paper upon the Tragedy of Cato, and some others. And since you are now pleas'd to ask what I think of his Paper of yesterday, I shall here answer your Request.

About three Weeks before, (all which time the EXAMINER took to consider the Matter) there came out a Poems called, An Original CANTO of SPENCER, design'd as Part of his Fairy Queen, but never printed; now made publick, by NESTOR IRONSIDE, Esq. This Poem, whoever was the Author, or whatever was the Design of it, was, I think, at least allow'd by every body to be a very just and ingenious imitation of SPENCER's manner of Writing; and it was accordingly very much bought up, read, and admir'd. But out at last comes the EXAMINER, and criticises this Piece of Poetry, being very jealous of the Praise of an Author, and willing always, was he but as able, to take even the Life away of any one that writes better than himself. And how doth he set himself about it? why, very pleasantly you'll say, for he begins thus: "It is not my way to make my self either the Publisher or Interpreter of a Whig Author's Works, but that Piece is now freely dispers'd; and by being written with a little more Spirit than has for some time appear'd in the Performances of that Party, is gotten into vogue: They all agree to cry it up, and tell us the Meaning of it without Reserve." You will now, I hope, acquit him of the Crime of being either the Interpreter or Publisher; you shall now observe his Criticisms, every one of which I shall give you in his own Order. "The Contrivance and Fable of the Poem are Uncouth and Antick enough." Perhaps he means Mimick. "The Diction and Sentiments imitate Spencer, even to a Degree of Affectation." This is strange indeed in an Author who affects to imitate SPENCER. Some "Expressions" (such as Kennelling, &c.) "are offensive to the Stomach." This he judges by his own, and that indeed I always thought was not good by the Disorder of his Head, and the Badness of his Tast. But here follows the most cutting Remark of all, which indisputably shews the poor Poet's Ignorance; and this is put into a Query to Country Squires, whether the Epithet "Generous is more applicable to an honest English Cur, or to a fawning foreign Spaniel?" What Answer the Country Squire will give I can't tell; but this I'll say, that a Brave Loyal Englishman is better than a Servile French Examiner.

And thus end all his wise and learned Remarks; but to make up the Business of the Day, and gain his Hire, it was requisite to have a Beginning and Ending, besides this little something between. Accordingly he sets out with a Motto out of Virgil, with a sly Design to reflect upon the Author of the Poem for not having been acute and quick-sighted enough to have discover'd and applied it to his Archimago, with whom it suits better than any Motto that could have been found in all the Classic Writers. It relates to one Circe, an Arch-Enchantress in Days of yore; who, by Virtue of her Magic Wand, turn'd all the Servants of Ulysses into brute Beasts, except one, and he was forc'd to fly for it. And thus much for the Motto, by which our EXAMINER meant to shew his Classic Learning; but now you must know he is as well read at least in our own Country Poets: Accordingly, by way of Prologue to all those learned Remarks I have mention'd, he says, "We are the celebrated Originals, who began to decide State Affairs by the Couplet, and to deliver our Sentiments of Government in Rhime, and that Faction was first display'd in the English Tongue." Thus, something of this kind is to be found in our English Chaucer, Gower, the Visions of Pierce Plowman, and the Fragments of Robert of Gloucester. But here I know you'll ask, What doth the Sot mean by the Fragments of Robert of Gloucester? Nor can I tell you, but as there is a compleat History of England, written by Robert of Gloucester, from the Beginning to his own time, I suppose the Scribbler had heard of his Name as well as that of the others, and so put it down; but as for any thing of what he calls State-Poetry, I don't know what he means, except it be these four following Lines in the Reign of Henry the 2d, when he tells us, the Barons, after some Dispute, at last perswaded the King

To remue the Frenshe men to live beyonds se
By hor londes her and ther, and no come noght age,
And to granti god lawes, and the Charter also,
That so ofte was igranted her, and so ofte undo.

But now as for Robert Langland, the Author of Pierce Plowman, the EXAMINER, was he able to read a Word of him, might make a Nestor Ironside, or what he pleas'd of him, for his whole Book is nothing else but a Church and State Poem, and tho' he wrote about the Year 1350, yet as Dr. Hicks observes, he makes a perfect Description of the Reformation in Hen. 8th's Time. Thus good Poets you see have been Prophets, and will, I hope, always be so.

That Wight must needs be one Day glorifide,
Who against lawless Powrs and torious Wrong,
With fierce Avengement gallantly doth ride.
Canto of Spencer, Stanza 46.

And now our EXAMINER, after having made this Discovery of his Reading in our English Poets, returns again to his Classic Authors, and will have it known he has read Horace, or Dacier's Horace at least. Thus, says he, "when Horace was suspected to have written one State-Ode, which begins thus,

O Navis, referent in mare te novi
Fluctus, &c.

wherein he is suppos'd to have given Hints of some Fears, Jealousies and Dangers to the Publick, which did by no means become him, and which care contrary to the jolly Humour he so often assume in many other Places, where he leaves these important Affairs to the Men whose Province it is to be troubled with them; one or two of our Commentators have, with a very refin'd Judgment, vindicated the Poet's Honour in this Point, and plainly prov'd that there is no State Parallel or Allegory in those Expressions." Now to pass by the Reason he gives why this is no Allegorical Ode, as because of Horace's jolly Humour, &c. I shall observe to you, that those one or two of our Commentators are Faber and his Son in law Dacier, in spite of whom and the EXAMINER to boot, this will still pass for an Allegorical Ode. For Quintilian, who I fancy understood Horace as well as the EXAMINER, declares it to be so, and instances in this very Ode to shew what an Allegory is. Acron and Porphyrian, and Fifty Commentators more, have been all of the same Opinion; and indeed the thing was in itself so plain, that no body ever presum'd to doubt it, till about fifty Years since, Tanaguil Fabre, in a Letter to a Friend, tells him, "That dining t' other Day with a Colonel of the Guards, when his Belly was stuft, and the Cloth was taken away, he fell to reading Horace," and then this jolly Thought came into his Head; "That tho' for near sixteen hundred Years this had been taken for a State Ode," (as the EXAMINER calls it) "yet it should now be so no longer." But now I shall shew you, that Horace not only makes use of an Allegory here, but that he has put the very same Allegory into Verse, which his Patron Maecenas had formerly made use of in his Speech to Augustus, to perswade him not to resign his Crown, (or whatever else the EXAMINER will please to call it.) "Our State" (says he) like some great Ship, containing many different sorts of People, without a Pilot, has now for some Time been shaken with Tempests and like an unballasted Vessel, been tost this Way and that. Don't you now, therefore, forsake it in its Distress; and because you see it almost sinking, take away all the Hope that's left. A corrupted State it is, and seems to be arriv'd at the last Moments of its Existence: Since, therefore, the Gods have set you at the Head of it, don't betray your Country, but as it was sometime happy under your Influence, so let it, by your Means, remain secure to Posterity."

Thus you see, Sir, Horace, in this Ode, makes a Compliment to Maecenas, and a greater can't be made by an Author to a Man of Quality, who sets up for a Patron of Wit, than by making use of some of his Expressions. But Horace, says the EXAMINER, was never so much as suspected of writing but this one State-Ode, which I must beg leave to deny, since one at least, of the third Book, must be allow'd to be such. For in this, Horace (however the EXAMINER may think it might become him) presumes to make himself Augustus's Counsellor, and to direct him what he ought to do, if he would continue the Blessing of the Gods upon him. There had been a Report, a little before Julius Caesar's Death, that he design'd to remove the Seat of Empire, and rebuild old Mother Troy, and it was still much fear'd that his Heir Augustus would pursue the Design. This justly alarm'd all honest Romans, nor could they bear to think that for the Caprice of a Prince,

The Mistress of the World, the Seat of Empire,
The Nurse of Heroes, the Delight of Gods,
That humbled the proud Tyrants of the Earth,
And set the Nations free,
That Rome should be no more.

Whereupon Horace frames this admirable Ode to turn Augustus from his purpose. And it was so far from being thought that he had done amiss in it, that Virgil, the modestest Poet that ever liv'd, as the EXAMINER very well observes, follows his Example, and in the twelfth Book, where Juno is at length reconciled to the Trojans, and to their Descendants the Romans, she declares it to be upon these Conditions;

Sit Latium, sint Albani per secula reges,
Sit Romana potens Itala virtute propago:
Occidit, occideritque sinas cum nomine Troja.

But of this too much. I shall now follow the EXAMINER towards his Conclusion, where I find the following Passage. "Some Men," says he, "undisguise themselves by putting on their Masks; a Strumpet and a Robber are never so well-known, as when their Visors are on." Therefore the Character of Archimago is easily seen thro', and fully explain'd by all the Faction. What Time means here I can't tell, but of this I'm sure, that if the Character of Archimago is "easily seen thro," it is a Sign it's very well drawn and very like; which is such a Commendation of the Poet as I did not expect from him. But thus it fares with injudicious Scribblers, when they bestow either their Censure or their Praise; and I can't but pity the EXAMINER's Masters to be got into the Hands of such a Quack, who promiseth them long Life, and at the same time is in a Method to destroy them very quickly. But now he has work'd himself up to such a Heighth of Insolence as exceeds all Bounds; for a little afterwards he makes use of that sacred Title, Pater Patriae, the Father of his Country, without applying it to the Throne. That Solemn Appellation, than which the Roman Senate and People could find none greater to bestow upon the Great Augustus, and of which Augustus himself thought so highly, that he could not receive it without Tears, that express'd his Sense of it better than the strongest Words: This, I say, doth the EXAMINER bestow beneath the Throne. But I hope to whomsover this trait'rous fawning Sycophant may apply this most Venerable Title, no one will have the Impudence to thank him for it, while our good Queen, the Mother of her Country, lives. After this he concludes with a sage Reflection of his own, "That to have Treason and Sedition utter'd in the Name and Language of SPENCER, is an Iniquity that has few Precedents; and that he has met with nothing like it, except in the Cento Nuptialis in Ausonius."

And now, Sir, I have only to beg your Pardon for detaining you so long, upon so trifling a Subject as an EXAMINER, and to assure you that I am, &c.

Dec. 19, 1713.

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