1722
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Letter to a Critick, in Vindication of the Modern Poets.

Poems, on Several Occasions. By the Author of, The Match at Foot-Ball.

Matthew Concanen


In a contribution to the Ancients-Moderns controversy, the Irish poet Matthew Concanen complains that Chaucer and Spenser are admired for their age alone: "Three Hundred Years set CHAUCER's Fame to rights | And SPENCER, only for his Age, delights" p. 49. Such a complaint could hardly have been made a decade or two earlier, and indicates the extent to which Spenser's star had risen during the reign of Queen Anne: most of the modern bards Concanen praises had imitated Spenser.

Matthew Concanen wrote the "Letter" while still a young man living in Ireland; the bipartisan tone displayed in his catalogue would disappear once he emigrated to England and joined the band of London poets lashing Pope.

Preface: "But this I flatter myself with, that the Good-natur'd Part of the World will not quite condemn me for the Faults they may meet with here; but rather fancy the Person, who wrote ev'ry Line in the following Sheets, between the Years of Eighteen and Twenty One, is not to be dispair'd of; and that 'tis probable he may hereafter do something that won't stand in Need of such an Excuse: Give me Leave to furnish them with the Example of Mr. Cowley. I would not be thought to bring Non-Age as an Excuse for bad Verses; no, I think nothing can be so for such. Ev'ry one may be as free with what I have printed, as they please; all I desire is, to fix me no Character from them, until Experience entitles me to One" p. x.

A different, possibly earlier version of the text of the poem, dated "Aug. 1, 1722," was published in the Universal Journal in 1724. It substitutes the names "Rowe" (then dead) for "Eusden" and "Welsted" for "Gay." It appeared beneath the following headnote: "Sir, The enclosed Verses have been written some Time since, as appears by their Date. The Author dares not own them, for a very obvious Reason; he has somewhat too freely given his Opinion, without consulting the Judgment of others; yet there may come a Time when what he has said may pass for every one's Opinion. The Verses are pretty much dispersed; but I assure you the inclosed is the only just Copy. I had them from himself, and would not willingly suffer them to be lost: Whenever you have a Vacancy, you will oblige, by inserting them, Your constant Reader, Cleobulus" Universal Journal No. 21 (29 April 1724) 1.

W. Davenport Adams: "Matthew Concanen, miscellaneous writer (d. 1749), produced several poems and a comedy called Wexford Wells. Perhaps his best title to distinction, however, is his appearance in the Dunciad, which was caused by an attack upon the poet Pope: 'Be thine, my stationer, this magic gift, | Cooke shall be Prior, and Concanen, Swift'" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 149.

W. J. Courthope: "Concanen died of consumption in England in 1738, after his return from Jamaica. He was one of Warburton's associates before the latter became the champion of Pope" Note in Works of Alexander Pope (1871-89) 4:335.



How oft, my Friend, hast thou with Grief unfeign'd,
Of the vast Dearth of Modern Wit complain'd?
Against the Learning of our Age exclaim'd?
Revil'd our Poets, and their Works defam'd?
Run o're With Rapture VIRGIL's sacred Page?
And swell'd with Transport, at old HOMER's rage?
Unmindful, that our Times can Writers show,
Whose, Breasts with Ardour, scarce inferior, glow.

To you its Date best recommends the Writ,
And ev'ry Thing that's ancient must be Wit.
Three Hundred Years set CHAUCER's Fame to rights.
And SPENCER, only for his Age, delights;
FLETCHER, because long dead, in Fame survives,
While VANBRUG's greatest Fault, is that he lives.

Such is the Prejudice which Mankind sways,
Ev'n these have had their Criticks in their Days:
For Hell-born Envy, with malignant Care,
Still blasts the Praises which she cannot share.
The Haggard Fiend the living Bard pursues,
Exerts the Spoiler, and infests the Muse;
Rescu'd by Fate, Fame rises from the Tomb,
And only then the Bays begin to bloom.

Since all allow the Dead their Shares in Fame,
Then hear me triumph in the Living's Name;
Throw off the Critick to put on the Friend,
And pardon what your judgment can't commend:
Too well I know the Hazards which I run,
And see the Perils I neglect to shun.
Full of my Theme I dare infringe your Laws,
And merit Censure while I give Applause.

When SOUTHERN melts in unaffected Strains,
What soft Confusion in our Bosoms reigns;
Reason in vain forbids our Eyes to flow,
And feign'd Distress gives undissembled Woe.

CONGREVE her Darling ev'ry Muse design'd,
CONGREVE to no One Excellence confin'd,
Equally Great in all — in him conspire
Your OVID's Softness, and your PINDAR's Fire,
In his gay Scenes the comick Spirit shines,
And all the Graces revel in his Lines:
When he with nobler Pride the Buskin wears,
He moves our Wonder, and commands our Tears.

Great and Unmatch'd is Laurel'd EUSDEN'S Praise,
At once to merit, and adorn the Bays;
Like some smooth Riv'let flows his charming Strain,
Which neither Rocks disturb, nor Floods distain.
Such Depth and Clearness in his Verses meet,
Strong as the Stream, and as its Murmurs sweet.

With pleasing Notes the Woods and Valleys ring,
If POPE's harmonious Hand but touch the String;
His gentle Numbers charm the ravish'd Plains,
While still Attention holds the wond'ring Swains.
As when the Birds of ev'ry tuneful Kind,
Within the Limits of a Grove confin'd;
Their artless Musick warble thro' the Sprays,
And in Divine Confusion mix their Lays:
The Note still chang'd, our raptur'd Sense confounds,
With mingling Melody, and blending Sounds;
While none its single Excellence can boast,
But in the gen'ral Harmony is lost.
Such are his Works, and such his ev'ry Song,
Alike all easy, and alike all strong.

The grateful Muse to SWIFT exulting flys,
By whom upborn these arduous Tracts she trys,
Grov'ling on Earth she lay, unfledg'd before,
Till rais'd by him, she first essay'd to soar:
To him the Classicks all their Art have shown,
Yet all his Wit, and Spirit are his own:
He knows their Methods to pursue their Race,
Yet scorns their Footsteps servilely to trace:
Before Columbus rose, mistaken Men,
B'liev'd nought beyond their Sire's short-sighted Ken;
So heretofore our plodding Criticks thought
Nothing was Sense but what the Antients taught,
Till SWIFT launch'd forth, and boldly dar'd explore
New Worlds of Wit unknown to those before.

So many Charms in GRANVILLE's Muse appear,
Tis doubtful if his Myra be more fair;
Myra the Sexes Envy, and their Shame,
By Cruelty for ever blasts her Fame;
Unmov'd she listens to that Syren Tongue,
And hears the melting Accents of that Song,
Which ev'ry other Fair with Softness wound,
Who bless the Pain, and die upon the Sound.

Here YOUNG arrests the Muse, and claims her Praise.
From the vast Grandeur of his tow'ring Lays;
In him, no abject Words, Expressions mean,
Or grovling Thoughts debase the labour'd Scene;
Him Heav'n ordain'd the Boast of Britain's Isle,
Prop of her Stage, and Standard of her Style;
With pleasing Force he boldly strikes the Heart,
And adds to Strength and Nature, Grace and Art.

Soft PHILIPS next, who to his artful Song,
Tunes the gay Gambols of the rustick Throng,
Our Lyre ennobles, and exalts our Scene,
With the Great Names of SAPPHO and RACINE,
Reflects their Beauties, like a flatt'ring Glass,
And shews ev'n STRADA fairer than he was;
His tuneful Hand can all our Senses charm,
With Tempests please, with frozen Billows warm.

Fain would I rove through STEELE's instructive Page,
Admire the Bard, and venerate the Sage.
SEWEL's unbounded Excellence display,
Or trace the pleasing Elegance of GAY;
But dare not venture, lest my Want of Skill
Should Praise them' better than my Strength of Will;
Their Lines draw Lustre from the Shades in mine,
And Painting ill obstruct my great Design.

Nor are these all — unnumber'd Lights appear,
To guide our Ways, and gild our Hemisphere
With Pow'r Illustrious, and with Art Divine,
And in collated Excellence they shine.

As when the clouded Mantle of the Night,
With Stars bespangled, shines serenely bright,
Some more conspicuous Dart their trembling Rays
While some united Form one common Blaze.

[pp. 48-54]