1769
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Biographical History of England: Edmund Spenser.

A Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution. With a Preface, shewing the utility of a Collection of engraved Portraits... By the Rev. J. Granger.

Rev. James Granger


James Granger comments on the usual topics, condemning the allegory in a way that would become the norm in romantic criticism. The comment that Spenser's very peculiarity makes "almost all the imitations of him resemble the original" is itself an original remark. James Granger's collection was no less valuable for its biographies of obscure figures than for its portraits, re-engraved from scores of early books. The nineteenth-century habit of collecting prints of authors, which originated in Granger, led to the mutilation of untold thousands of volumes. Not seen.

John Hawkesworth: "This work, notwithstanding the pompous title, is nothing more than what the Author modestly calls it, in a short dedication to the Hon. Horace Walpole, 'a numerous catalogue of the portraits of our countrymen, many of whom have made a considerable figure in the world, with sketches of their characters.' It contains, however, a great variety of very curious particulars, which many years reading would scarcely have found before they were thus brought together, and which afford much instruction ad entertainment" Monthly Review 41 (August 1769) 206-07.

James Granger to Thomas Warton: "It has been received by the public with much more favour than I ever expected; but the sale, of late, has not answered the sanguine expectation of Mr. Davies the bookseller, who is by no means pleased with me for talking of a second edition, though he himself put the words into my mouth. He told me, but few months since, that he did not question but he must begin reprinting it within a year from the publication. But he is now assured that a second edition is at a much greater distance; and tells me that a great number of copies remain unsold in his hands, and especially in the hands of the booksellers, his subscribers" 13 March 1770; Wooll, Biographical Memoirs of Joseph Warton (1806) 366-67.

Samuel Johnson: "Granger's Biographical History is full of curious anecdote, but might have been better done. The dog is a Whig. I do not like much to see a Whig in any dress; but I hate to see a Whig in a parson's gown" 1773; in Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 290-91.

James Boswell to Samuel Johnson: "I have, since I saw you, read every word of Granger's Biographical History. It has entertained me exceedingly, and I do not think him the Whig you supposed" 30 August, 1776; in Allibone, Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:718.

Samuel Johnson: "This is the most entertaining book in the English language" William Goodhugh, The English Gentleman's Library Manual (1827) 93.

Thomas Frognall Dibdin: "Considering that Granger may be said to have first walked the field alone, it is surprising what he has done. His catalogue of engraved heads is immense. His style is always clear, pointed, and lively: and if he talked and preached as he wrote in his biographical history, it would have been difficult to have withdrawn attention from so intelligent a quarter" Library Companion (1824; 1825) 2:520n.

J. W. Croker: "Dr. James Granger died in 1776. His Biographical History of England, dedicated to Horace Walpole, was published in 1769. A continuation, by the Rev. Mark Noble, appeared in 1806. In a letter to Boswell, Aug. 30, 1776, Dr. Johnson says, 'I have read every word of Granger: it has entertained me exceedingly" Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831; 1868) 4:282n.




Edmund Spenser, the celebrated author of the "Fairy Queen," was father of the English heroic poem, and of true pastoral poetry in England. He stands distinguished from almost all other poets, in that faculty by which a poet is distinguished from other writers, namely, invention; and excelled all his contemporaries in harmonious versification. The stanza of Spenser, and the old words which constantly occur in his works, contribute to give this great poet an air of peculiarity: hence it is that almost all the imitations of him resemble the original. It is to be regretted, that such vigour of imagination and harmony of numbers should have been lavished upon an endless and uninteresting allegory, abounding with all the whimsies of knight-errantry. It ought at the same time to be remembered, that it was much more interesting in the days of Elizabeth than it is in the present age. According to Lord Lyttelton, he has, in his poem, represented the great queen "as the patroness of the most sublime chivalry, and as sending forth the moral virtues, illustrated under the characters of the different knights, &c. In this light, the 'Fairy Queen' is as much a state poem as the Aenieis of Virgil" [notes to Life of Henry II. p. 53]. Parnassus proved a very barren soil to him. The queen was far from having a just sense of his merit; and Lord Burleigh, who prevented her from giving him a hundred pounds, seems to have thought the lowest clerk in his office a more deserving person. It was very hard, that a genius who did honour to his country, should get less, by writing, than a journeyman mechanic employed in printing his works. He died in want of bread, 1599.


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