Connoisseur No. 125 [Letter from a Gentleman of Cambridge.]

The Connoisseur No. 125 (17 June 1756).

Robert Lloyd

Robert Lloyd, the Cambridge Gentleman, speculates that modern poetry has become overly polite, and that writers could do worse than to look for example to the elder poets who knew that the Muses "love to be attacked briskly." Lloyd's admiration, however, does not extend to Spenser's manner: "Should we take a review even of Chaucer's poetry, the most inattentive reader, in the very thickest of old Geoffrey's woods, would find the light sometimes pierce through, and break in upon him like lightning; and a man must have no soul in him, who does not admire the fancy, the strength, and elegance of Spenser, even through that disagreeable habit, which the fashion of the times obliged him to wear." The essay concludes with one of Lloyd's several verse epistles roasting imitators in verse. Not seen.

Nathan Drake: "Of the two remaining contributors to the Connoisseur, Mr. Robert Lloyd, the friend of Churchill, can scarcely be considered in any other light than as a poetical assistant; having written the verses in No. 87; the Song in No. 72, in ridicule of the common style of song-writing; the Hare and the Tortoise, a Fable, in No. 90; and the Satyr and the Pedlar, a Fable, in No. 90; and the Satyr and the Pedlar, a Fable, and an Epistle to a Friend, in No. 125; whilst his only prose composition in the work, is a letter introductory to the two last-mentioned poems. He died in 1764, a victim of his extravagance and irregularities" in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 2:336.

Robert Chambers: "Another weekly miscellany of the same kind, The Connoisseur, was commenced by George Colman and Bonnell Thornton — two professed wits, who wrote in unison, so that, as they state, 'almost every single paper is the joint product of both.' Cowper the poet contributed a few essays to The Connoisseur, short but lively, and in that easy style which marks his correspondence.... The Connoisseur was in existence from January 1754 to September 1756" Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:156.

W. Davenport Adams: "Robert Lloyd, poet and miscellaneous writer (b. 1733, d. 1764), wrote The Actor (1760), and other works, which were collected and published by Dr. Kenrick in 1774. Among these are The Progress of Envy (1751); Tears and Triumphs of Parnassus (1760); Arcadia: oir, the Shepherd's Wedding (1761); and The Conscious Lovers (1764)" 353.

Cervius bee inter vicinus garrit aniles
Ex re fabellas.—HOR. SAT. ii. 6. 77.
With Mr. Town, when prose and precepts fail,
His friend supplies a poem or a tale.

Nothing has given me a more sensible pleasure, in the course of this undertaking, than the having been occasionally honoured with the correspondence of several ingenious gentlemen of both our universities. My paper of to-day gives me unusual satisfaction on this account; and I cannot help looking on it with a great deal of pleasure, as a sort of a little Cambridge miscellany. The reader will see, it is composed of two poems, which I have lately received from a correspondent in that learned university. These little pieces, unless my regard for the writer makes me partial to them, contain many beauties, and are written with that elegant peculiarity of style and manner, which plainly speak them to come from the same hand that has already obliged the public with some other pieces of poetry, published in this paper.



Your essay on the abuse of words was very well received here; but more especially that part of it, which contained the modern definition of the word "ruined." You must know, Sir, that in the language of our old dons, every young man is ruined, who is not an arrant Tycho Brahe or Erra Pater. Yet it is remarkable, that, though the servants of the Muses meet with more than ordinary discouragement at this place, Cambridge has produced many celebrated poets; witness Spenser, Milton, Cowley, Dryden, &c., not to mention some admired writers of the present times. I myself, Sir, am grievously suspected of being better acquainted with Homer and Virgil than Euclid or Saunderson; and am universally agreed to be ruined, for having concerned myself with Hexameter and Pentameter more than Diameter. The equity of this decision I shall not dispute; but content myself at present with submitting to the public, by means of your paper, a few lines on the import of another favourite word, occasioned by the essay above mentioned.

But fearing that so short a piece will not be sufficient to eke out a whole paper, I have subjoined to it another little poem, not originally designed for the public view, but written as a familiar epistle to a friend. The whole is nothing more than the natural result of many letters and conversations, that had past between us on the present state of poetry in these kingdoms; in which I flattered myself, that I was justifiable in my remarks on the barrenness of invention in most modern compositions, as well as in regard to the cause of it. We are now, indeed, all become such exact critics, that there are scarce any tolerable poets; what I mean by exact critics is, that we are grown, — I speak in general, — by the help of Addison and Pope, better judges of composition, than heretofore. We get an early knowledge of what chaste writing is, and even schoolboys are checked in the luxuriancy of their genius, and not suffered to run riot in their imaginations. I must own I cannot help looking on it as a bad omen to poetry, that there is nowadays scarce any such thing to be met with as fustian and bombast; for our authors, dreading the vice of incorrectness above all others, grow ridiculously precise and affected. In short, however paradoxical it may seem, we have now, in my opinion, too correct a taste. It is to no purpose for such prudent sober wooers, as our modern bards, to knock at the door of the Muses. They, as well as mortal ladies, love to be attacked briskly. Should we take a review even of Chaucer's poetry, the most inattentive reader, in the very thickest of old Geoffrey's woods, would find the light sometimes pierce through, and break in upon him like lightning; and a man must have no soul in him, who does not admire the fancy, the strength, and elegance of Spenser, even through that disagreeable habit, which the fashion of the times obliged him to wear. To conclude, there is this material difference between the former and present age of poetry; that the writers in the first thought poetically; in the last, they only express themselves so. Modern poets seem to me more to study the manner how they shall write, than what is to be written. The minute accuracy of their productions; the bells of their rhymes, so well matched, making most melodious tinkle, and all the mechanism of poetry, so exactly finished; together with a total deficiency of spirit, which should be the leaven of the whole, put me in mind of a piece of furniture, generally found in the studies of the learned, "in an odd angle of the room," a mahogany case, elegantly carved and fashioned on the outside, the specious covering of a — chamber-pot.

I am, Sir, your most humble servant,

R. L.

Trin. Coll., Cant., June 6.

Words are, so Wollaston defines,
Of our ideas merely signs,
Which have the power at will to vary,
As being vague and arbitrary.
Now damn'd, for instance — All agree
Damn'd's the superlative degree;
Means that alone, and nothing more,
However taken heretofore.
Damn'd is a word can't stand alone,
Which has no meaning of its own;
But signifies or bad or good,
Just as its neighbour's understood.
Examples we may find enough:
Damn'd high, damn'd low, damn'd fine, damn'd stuff.
So fares it too with its relation,
I mean its substantive, damnation.
The wit with metaphors makes bold,
And tells you he's damnation cold.
Perhaps, that metaphor forgot,
The self-same wit's damnation hot.

And here a fable I remember—
Once, in the middle of December,
When every mead in snow is lost,
And every river bound with frost,
When families get all together,
And feelingly talk o'er the weather;
When — pox of the descriptive rhyme—
In short, it was the winter time:
It was a Peddler's happy lot
To fall into a Satyr's cot:
Shivering with cold, and almost froze,
With pearly drop upon his nose,
His fingers' ends all pincn'd to death,
He blew upon them with his breath.
"Friend," quoth the Satyr, "what intends
That blowing on thy fingers' ends?"
"It is to warm them thus I blow,
For they are froze as cold as snow;
And so inclement has it been,
I'm like a cake of ice within."
"Come," quoth the Satyr, "comfort, man!
I'll cheer thy inside, if I can;
You're welcome, in my homely cottage,
To a warm fire and mess of pottage."

This said, the Satyr, nothing loth,
A bowl prepared of savoury broth;
Which with delight the Peddler view'd,
As smoking on the board it stood.
But, though the very steam arose
With grateful odour to his nose,
One single sip he ventured not,
The gruel was so wondrous hot.
What can be done? — with gentle puff
He blows it, till it's cool enough.

"Why, how now, Peddler, what's the matter?
Still at thy blowing?" quoth the Satyr.
"I blow to cool it," cries the clown,
That I may get the liquor down;
For, though I grant you've made it well,
You've boil'd it, Sir, as hot as hell."

Then raising high his cloven stump,
The Satyr smote him on the rump.
"Begone, thou double knave, or fool;
With the same breath to warm and cool!
Friendship with such I never hold,
Who're so damn'd hot, and so damn'd cold."

Again I urge my old objection,
That modern rules obstruct perfection,
And the severity of taste
Has laid the walk of genius waste.
Fancy's a flight we deal no more in,
Our authors creep, instead of soaring;
And all the brave imagination
Is dwindled into declamation.

But still you cry, in sober sadness,
"There is discretion e'en in madness."
A pithy sentence! but wants credit,
Because, I find, a poet said it:
Their verdict makes but small impression,
Who are known liars by profession.
Rise what exalted flights it will,
True genius will be genius still.
And say, that horse would you prefer,
Which wants a bridle, or a spur?
The mettled steed may lose his tricks;
The jade grows callous to your kicks.

Had Shakspeare crept by modern rules,
We'd lost his witches, fairies, fools.
Instead of all that wild creation,
He'd form'd a regular plantation,
Or garden trim and all inclosed,
In nicest symmetry disposed
The hedges cut in proper order,
Nor e'en a branch beyond its border.
Now, like a forest he appears,
The growth of twice three hundred years;
Where many a tree aspiring shrouds
Its very summit in the clouds,
While round its root still loves to twine
The ivy and wild eglantine.

"But Shakspeare's all-creative fancy
Made others love extravagancy,
While cloud-clapt nonsense was their aim,
Like Hurlothrumbo's mad Lord Flame."
True. — Who can stop dull imitators,
Those younger brothers of translators;
Those insects, which from genius rise,
And buzz about, in swarms, like flies?
Fashion, that sets the modes of dress,
Sheds too her influence o'er the press:
As formerly the sons of rhyme
Sought Shakspeare's fancy and sublime,
By cool correctness now they hope
To emulate the praise of Pope:
But Pope and Shakspeare both disclaim
These low retainers to their fame.

What task can dulness e'er affect
So easy, as to write correct?
Poets 'tis said, are sure to split
By too much or too little wit;
So, to avoid th' extremes of either,
They miss their mark, and follow neither:
They so exactly poise the scale,
That neither measure will prevail;
And mediocrity the Muse
Did never in her sons excuse.
'Tis true their tawdry works are graced
With all the charms of modern taste,
And every senseless line is dress'd
In quaint expression's tinsel vest.
Say, did you ever chance to meet
A Monsieur Barber in the street,
Whose ruffle, as it lank depends,
And dangles o'er his fingers' ends,
His olive-tann'd complexion graces,
With little dabs of Dresden laces;
While for the body, Monsieur Puff
Would think e'en dowlass fine enough?
So fares it with our men of rhymes,
Sweet tinklers of poetic chimes;
For lace, and fringe, and tawdry clothes,
Sure never yet were greater beaux;
Howe'er they deck the outward frame,
The inner skeleton's the same.

But shall these wretched bards commence,
Without or spirit, taste, or sense?
And when they bring no other treasure,
Shall I admire them for their measure?
Or do I scorn the critic's rules,
Because I will not learn of fools?
Although Longinus' full-mouth'd prose
With all the force of genius glows;
Though Dionysius' learned taste
Is ever manly, just, and chaste,
Who, like a skilful, wise physician,
Dissects each part of composition,
And shows how beauty strikes the soul,
From a just compact of the whole;
Though judgment in Quintilian's page
Holds forth her lamp for every age;
Yet, hypercritics I disdain,
A race of blockheads, dull and vain,
And laugh at all those empty fools,
Who cramp a genius with dull rules,
And what their narrow science mocks
Damn with the name of Het'rodox.
These butchers of a poet's fame,
While they usurp the critic's name,
Cry: "This is taste — that's my opinion.
And poets dread their mock dominion.
So have you seen, with dire affright,
The petty monarch of the night,
Seated aloft in elbow-chair,
Command the pris'ners to appear;
Harangue an hour on watchman's praise,
And on the dire effect of frays;
Then cry: "You'll suffer for your daring,
And damn you, you shall pay for swearing;"
Then, turning, tell th' astonished ring,
"I sit to represent the King."

[British Essayists (1856) 26:332-39]