1765
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Some Account of a Collection of Old Ballads; lately published in 3 Volumes in 12mo. by Thomas Percy.

Gentleman's Magazine 35 (April 1765) 179-83.

John Hawkesworth


The anonymous reviewer for the Gentleman's Magazine anticipates that Percy's Reliques will give pleasure to "a class of readers and of writers too, that profess themselves to be admirers of simplicity, to delight in the stanza of Spencer, and to prefer both our language and our versification in their rudiments to the correct elegance of later times" p. 180. This prediction was quite correct; the first fruits of Spenserian interest in the Reliques would take the form of James Beattie's The Minstrel (1771) which was inspired by Percy. Most of the review is given over to a discussion of Shakespeare's use of the ballads. Hawkesworth reviewed for the Gentleman's Magazine from 1765 to 1772.

W. Davenport Adams: "John Hawkesworth LL.D., essayist (b. 1715, d. 1773), published a tale called Almoran and Hamel, an edition of Swift's Works, a translation of Telemaque, and An Account of the Voyages of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and Cook, from 1764 to 1771 (1773)" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 271.

Bertram H. Davis: "Of the three reviewers of the Reliques, the anonymous reviewer for the Gentleman's Magazine — probably John Hawkesworth — best fitted the stereotype to whom Percy had directed the comments in his preface" Thomas Percy (1989) 131.




Each of these volumes contains an independent series of poems, arranged for the most part in order of time; why the Editor did not rather chuse to range them in one series he has not told us; but he has with great judgment selected such specimens as either shew the gradation of our language, exhibit the progress of popular opinions, display the peculiar manners and customs of former ages, or throw light on our early classical poets.

The greater part of them were extracted from an antient folio manuscript, in the Editor's possession, which was written about the middle of the last century, and contains compositions of various times from the ages prior to Chaucer, to the end of the reign of Charles the 1st. The Editor also, consulted other collections, particularly the Pepysian library at Magdalen college, Cambridge, where there are near 2000 antient English ballads, pasted in five volumes in folio; a small collection of ballads made by Anthony Wood, in the year 1676, to be found in the Ashmole library at Oxford; some antient popular poems in the Bodleian library; some large folio volumes containing many curious political poems in the archives of the Antiquarian society in London; and a folio volume of printed ballads, with other collections, in the British Museum; besides, many private collections, as well printed as manuscript.

At the end of each volume are added a few modern attempts in the same kind of writing.

The collection will please, persons that have a taste for genuine poetry, chiefly as an object of curiosity; here and there however will be found some approaches to harmony, and here and there some poetical beauties of a superior kind. There is a class of readers and of writers too, that profess themselves to be admirers of simplicity, to delight in the stanza of Spencer, and to prefer both our language and our versification in their rudiments to the correct elegance of later times. To these gentlemen this work will afford great pleasure, setting curiosity wholly aside.

As many of the poems in this collection are heroic or historical, they are illustrated with an account of the hero whom they celebrate, or the event which they commemorate. These illustrations are extreamly curious, entertaining and instructive.

There is also prefixed to the first volume, an essay on the Old English Minstrels, persons who were successors of our antient bards, who united the arts of poetry and music, and sung verses of their own composing to the harp. By these minstrels our heroic and historical ballads are supposed to have been written.

In the first volume of this collection there are all the ballads that illustrate Shakespeare, and to this part the Editor has prefixed an essay on the origin of the English stage, which contains many things not to be found in any other. And the third volume which consists principally of pieces on romantic subjects, he has illustrated with an essay on our antient metrical romances, which is the more worthy of attention, as those who have written on the nature and origin of books of chivalry seem not to have known that the first compositions of this kind were in verse, and usually sung to the harp.

In this essay, the author observes, that the republications of some of our antient songs of chivalry, in which we should frequently find the rich ore of an Ariosto, or a Tasso, buried among the rubbish of barbarous times, would, besides other important uses, illustrate innumberable passages in our ancient classic poets, which without their help must be for ever obscure. In Chaucer and Spencer, the allusions to them are innumberable, and he gives the two following instances from Shakespeare. . . .


[pp. 179-80]