1805
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Psyche; or, the Legend of Love: Preface.

Psyche; or, the Legend of Love.

Mary Tighe


Mary Tighe anticipates the usual complaints of the reviewers, who were not generally fond of allegories and sometimes objected to the Spenserian stanza. She repeats the century-and-a-half old complaint about the difficulties of the rhyme pattern, first made by Sir William Davenant: "The frequent recurrence of the same rhymes is by no means well adapted to the English language."

Reginald Heber: "She has chosen the stanza of Spenser, a metre, now considered as sacred to allegory, and at once the richest and the most difficult of any that have been familiarly used in English. She complains that the management of it has cost her infinite trouble; and, undoubtedly, we sometimes detect, in her pages, evidence of that fact. But occasional instances of tautology, abruptness, and quaintness or violence of expression, may be found in the most elaborate poems which have been composed in this stanza, and are, in effect, inseparable from a metrical system which, of all others, makes the most immense demands at once on the copiousness and the melody of the language. Even the great father of the system has multitudes of lines which are too evidently the offspring of necessity, and which accordingly, like necessity, seem to have no law. Making allowance for these human failings, the author before us has done full justice to the structure of her verse. Her strains are sounding and numerous, without constraint or excessive complication; nor would it be difficult to extract from the poem many passages as flowing and as musical as the finest in the Fairy Queen or the Castle of Indolence" Quarterly Review 5 (May 1811) 478.

John Wilson: "Let no poet dare to complain of the poverty of its words in what Warton calls 'identical cadences.' The music of their endings is magnificent and it is infinite. And we conclude with flinging it in the teeth of the scholiast, who is prating perhaps of the superiority of the German, a copy bound in calf-skin, of Walker's Rhyming dictionary, for the shade of Spenser might frown while it smiled, were we to knock the blockhead down with our vellum volume of the Faery Queen" Blackwood's Magazine 36 (1834) 422.

W. Davenport Adams: "A poem, in six cantos, written in the Spenserian stanza, by Mrs. Mary Tighe (1773-1810). It is founded on the well-known episode, related by Apuleius, and made the subject of a poem by William Morris, of the loves of Cupid and Psyche, an allegory of the union between Love and the Soul. It was printed privately in 1805, and publically circulated in 1811" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 503.




I much regret that I can have no hope of affording any pleasure to some, whose opinion I highly respect, whom I have heard profess themselves ever disgusted by the veiled form of allegory, and yet

Are not the choicest fables of the poets,
Who were the fountains and first springs of wisdom,
Wrapt in perplexed allegories?

But if I have not been able to resist the seductions of the mysterious fair, who perhaps appears captivating except in the eyes of her own poet, I have however remembered that my verse cannot be worth much consideration, and have therefore endeavoured to let my meaning be perfectly obvious. The same reason has deterred me from using the obsolete words which are to be found in Spenser and his imitators.

Although I cannot give up the excellence of my subject, I am yet ready to own that the stanza which I have chosen has many disadvantages, and that it may, perhaps, be as tiresome to the reader as it was difficult to the author. The frequent recurrence of the same rhymes is by no means well adapted to the English language; and I know not whether I have a right to offer as an apology the restraint which I had imposed on myself of strictly adhering to the stanza which my partiality for Spenser first inclined me to adopt.


[(1812) pp. xi-xiii]