1737 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Part of the Ninth Ode of the Fourth Book [of Horace].

The Works, with his last Corrections, Additions, and Improvements, together with Commentaries. 9 vols [William Warburton, ed.]

Alexander Pope


Edmund Spenser appears in a catalogue of poets: Tho' daring Milton sits Sublime, | In Spencer native Muses play." This poem was posthumously published in 1751 from an undated manuscript; see Pope, Imitations of Horace, ed. Butt (1939) 157.

Samuel Johnson: "The Imitations of Horace seem to have been written as relaxations of his genius. This employment became his favourite by its facility; the plan was ready to his hand, and nothing was required but to accommodate as he could the sentiments of an old author to recent facts or familiar images; but what is easy is seldom excellent: such imitations cannot give pleasure to common readers. The man of learning may be sometimes surprised and delighted by an unexpected parallel; but the comparison requires knowledge of the original, which will likewise often detect strained applications. Between Roman images and English manners there will be an irreconcilable dissimilitude, and the work will be generally uncouth and party-coloured; neither original nor translated, neither ancient nor modern" "Life of Pope" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 3:247.

Joseph Warton illustrates the verses by quoting from the yet-unpublished Spence anecdotes: "How much this author was his favourite from his early to his later years will appear from what he said to Mr. Spence, from whose Anecdotes I transcribe literally this passage: 'There is something in Spencer that pleases one as strongly in one's old age as it did in one's youth. I read the Fairy Queen when I was about twelve with a vast deal of delight; and I think it gave me as much when I read it over about a year or two ago'" (1797) 6:59n.

William Lisle Bowles: "I fear we must subscribe to Warton's opinion, that 'Pope has formed an Epigram, instead of giving us the manly plain sense of Horace" Works of Pope (1806) 6:43n.

Hugh Blair: "His imitations of Horace are so peculiarly happy, that one is at a loss, whether most to admire the original or the copy; and they are among the few imitations extant, that have all the grace and ease of an original. His paintings of characters are natural and lively in a high degree; and never was any Writer so happy in that concise spirited Style, which gives animation to Satyres and Epistles. We are never so sensible of the good effects of rhyme in English verse, as in reading those parts of his works" Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) 2:369.

William Goodhugh: "Pope composed his prefaces and letters with singular grace and beauty of style; and his poems present the finest specimens of exquisite judgment, adorned by the most harmonious and polished versification" The English Gentleman's Library Manual (1827) 155.

W. J. Courthope: "In his youthful days it was his ambition to adapt the heroic couplet, by means of classical forms, to express the romantic ideas familiar to him in the poetry of earlier generations. But as he grew older, he felt more and more the pressure of the social atmosphere about him, and the change of thought in a community in which mediaeval traditions were always giving way before the advance of civil ideas. Hence, during the latter part of his life, his poetry became almost exclusively ethical, and he himself makes it a matter of boasting 'That not in Fancy's maze he wandered long, | But stooped to Truth and moralised his song.' In executing this design, he gave to the couplet, as inherited from Dryden, a polish and balance which perfected its capacities of artistic expression, perhaps at the expense of its native vigour" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:184-85.

The lines on Spenser are included among the "Commendatory Verses" in Todd's Works of Spenser (1805).



Lest you should think that verse shall die,
Which sounds the Silver Thames along,
Taught on the wings of Truth, to fly
Above the reach of vulgar song;

Tho' daring Milton sits Sublime,
In Spencer native Muses play;
Nor yet shall Waller yield to time,
Nor pensive Cowley's moral Lay—

Sages and Chiefs long since had birth
E're Caesar was, or Newton nam'd,
These rais'd new Empires o'er the Earth,
And Those, new Heav'ns and Systems fram'd.

Vain was the Chief's, and Sage's pride!
They had no Poet, and they dyd.
In vain they schem'd, in vain they bled!
They had no Poet, and are dead.

[Works (1796-97) 6:59]