1787
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sonnet XLII. Composed during a Walk on the Downs, in November, 1787.

Elegiac Sonnets, by Charlotte Smith. The Fifth Edition, with Additional Sonnets and other Poems.

Charlotte Smith


Charlotte Smith's lone Spenserian sonnet was added to the fifth edition of her Elegiac Sonnets. The theme of mutability is given a characteristically gloomy turn in the close: "Bid Syren Hope resume her long-lost part, | And chase the vulture Care — that feeds upon the heart." While sonnets had been appearing with increasing frequency since the 1740s, it was Smith's unprecedented success that set the stage for their appearance in newspapers and magazines throughout the English-speaking world. William Lisle Bowles, would publish the next important collection of sonnets in 1789.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "The composition of the Sonnet has been regulated by Boileau in his Art of Poetry, and since Boileau, by William Preston, in the elegant preface to his Amatory Poems: the rules, which they would establish, are founded on the practice of Petrarch. I have never yet been able to discover sense, nature, or poetic fancy in Petrarch's poems, they appear to me all one cold glitter of heavy conceits and metaphysical abstractions. However, Petrarch, although not the inventor of the Sonnet, was the first who made it popular; and his countrymen have taken his poems as the model. Charlotte Smith and Bowles are they who first made the Sonnet popular among the present English; I am justified therefore by analogy in deducing its laws from their compositions" Poems (1803) 81.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "Mrs. Charlotte Smith is very generally and very justly praised for the descriptive excellencies exhibited in her Sonnets. But many writers might be named, more exuberant in description; and perhaps in exact and original description. In what then does the charm of her poetry consist? In a tone of exquisite pathos; in those moral and touching epithets, which associate the imagery with the movements of the heart! This is a charm, which no brilliance of fancy, no intellectual effort, no mechanical toil can give. It is literally the inspiration of an involuntary frame of the soul" Censura Literaria 6 (1808) 212n.

Leigh Hunt: "Some of her novels will last, and her sonnets with them, each perhaps aided by the other. There is nothing great in her; but she is natural and touching, and has hit, in the music of her sorrows, upon some of those chords which have been awakened equally, though not so well, in all human bosoms" in Men, Women, and Books (1847); Allibone, Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 2:2132.



The dark and pillowy cloud, the fallow trees,
Seem o'er the ruins of the year to mourn;
And, cold and hollow, the inconstant breeze
Sobs thro' the falling leaves and wither'd fern.
O'er the tall brow of yonder chalky bourn,
The evening shades their gather'd darkness fling,
While, by the lingering light, I scarce discern
The shrieking night-jar fail on heavy wing.
Ah! yet a little — and propitious Spring
Crown'd with fresh flowers shall wake the woodland strain;
But no gay change revolving seasons bring
To call forth pleasure from the soul of pain;
Bid Syren Hope resume her long-lost part,
And chase the vulture Care — that feeds upon the heart.

[(1797) 1:42]