"Wake, Harp of mine!" In two Spenserians seventeen-year-old Henry Neele boldly announces himself as a candidate for fame. And for the decade before his early death, Neele did indeed acquire a meed of fame as his Odes were twice republished and his tales and literary criticism was widely admired; there were even American editions. In several respects Henry Neele was remarkably similar to his neglected contemporary, John Keats: they belonged to the same social class, were both Londoners, shared the same literary tastes, and wrote in the same literary forms. Neele, who enjoyed all the fame that eluded Keats, committed suicide and was soon utterly forgotten, even as Keats was being discovered by a wider public. Not seen.
Preface: "If Poetry be indeed the power of giving to 'airy nothing a local habitation and a name,' then Lyric poetry is of all others that which best deserves the title. It dwells in a creation of its own; its actors are the visionary and unsubstantial train of fancy; and the companions by which it is surrounded are 'Calling shapes and beckoning shadows dire, | And airy tongues that syllable men's names.' When it descends to humanity, its intercourse is with the heart, and not with the actions of man; with his abstract feelings and passions, and not with the part which he plays on the world's great theatre. Fancy is its dominion, and the deep and abundant sources of description, allegory, and sentiment, are peculiarly its own" (1821) iii-iv.
Neele's poetry is closer than Keats's to the eighteenth-century lyric tradition, which may account for both his initial success and his ultimate failure. His preface expresses admiration for Cowley, Milton, and Dryden, distaste for Congreve and Akenside, and qualified admiration for the Wartons and William Mason; Henry Kirke White would have excelled in lyric had he lived. But "Collins and Gray are our most popular lyrists, and they deserve their popularity." Where Keats was inclined to strike out for originality, Neele, though studiously "disordered," is very traditional, reading the seventeenth-century masters through the medium of their eighteenth-century imitators. Though he imitates William Collins slavishly, perhaps Neele resembles no one so much as Thomas Penrose.
Monthly Review: "In a short preface, which takes a rapid survey of the lyric poets of England, and which unaccountably omits to mention Mr. Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, Mr. Neele maintains the superiority of Collins and Gray over all other poets in the same department. He does not, indeed, we think, dwell sufficiently on that glorious burst of Dryden, the Alexander's Feast, but otherwise his opinions seem tolerably reasonable. His poetry, in many passages, is of a very superior order to that of his ephemeral brethren of the grey goose quill: but on some occasions he is most bombastically disposed, and out-horrorizes even the most horrible of the modern votaries of horror. His taste is evidently not quite formed: but, from the classical models which he has chosen, and from the native spirit which he has displayed, we may venture to entertain better hopes of his future productions" NS 84 (October 1817) 209.
Port Folio [Philadelphia]: "Among those masters of the lyre whom he appears to have worshipped as the guides and companions of his course, he most nearly approaches to Collins, both in the cast of his composition, and the general colour of his sentiment. The same love of allegory, the same plaintive mildness of fancy, and not seldom the same simple and touching pathos which have immortalized the bard of Avon may be traced in the compositions of Mr. Neele.... The Odes, which are twelve in number, are, like those of Collins, chiefly employed on subjects of an abstract nature, and may, on that account, as was the case with that exquisite poet, more slowly attract the popular attention; but their beauties will assuredly in time be felt and understood" S4 11 (March 1821) 136-37.
Though 1816 is given as the date of publication, the preface is dated 1817. Compare Neele's anonymous "The Harp. A Lament for the Decline of Lyric Poetry" Monthly Magazine 37 (June 1814) 432.
Wake, Harp of mine! some lofty ditty ring,
Such as shall charm the sullen ear of Time,
And ere yon rolling planets cease to sing,
May mingle with their melodies sublime,
Lasting as they, and lovely as their chime.
Hope promised me a lay whose notes should sweep
Thro' the wide world, echoing in many a clime
When he who woke them lies in slumber deep,
A dark and moonless night, a long unstartled sleep.
And tho' that hope be vain — vain as the ray
That gleamed and glared and dazzled, and was o'er,
Yet thou mayest wile his life's dull dream away,
Charm many a weary hour, the rugged shore
Of earthly passage smoothe; and when no more
His hand can guide thee, or his spirit brave
Death's frenzied grasp, but desolate and hoar,
The spirits of the blast around thee rave,
Whisper one sorrowful note melodious o'er his grave.