1817
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On Reading the Third Canto of Childe Harold.

Gentleman's Magazine 87 (January 1817) 63-64.

John Chalk Claris


Five Spenserians, signed "Arthur Brooke, Canterbury, Nov. 1816." John Chalk Claris, who went on to publish several volumes of poems, was one of the many young admirers of Byron. The Gentleman's Magazine was publishing his verse on a regular basis at this time.

Critical Review: "Mr. Brooke is obviously a very diffident man; and though the poems under our eye are by no means first-rate, even in their kind, there is nothing offensive in them, and several of the pieces are very pleasing. The attempt in the note at the commencement to vindicate Pope from the attacks made upon him, is rather uncalled for; nobody denies that he was a man of great wit and acuteness, and that he was, in some respects, an admirable versifier; but these qualifications no more constitute a poet than that admirable piece of mechanism, a watch, can be called a living creature. We would advise the author of this small collection of poems, to set up for himself some other standard of first-rate excellence in the higher walks of poetry, than the writer whom he so much applauds" Review of Poems (1816); S5 4 (September 1818) 318.

Samuel Griswold Goodrich: "The very magnitude of the change — in passing from Scott's romantic ballads to Byron's metaphysical trances — when at last it was sanctioned by fashion, seemed to confirm and sanctify the revolution. Thus in about five or six years after the appearance of the first canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage — The others having speedily followed — the whole poetic world had become Byronic. Aspiring young rhymers now affected the Spenserian stanza, misanthropy, and skepticism. As Byron advanced in his career of profligacy, and reflected his shameless debaucheries in Don Juan, Beppo, and other similar effusions, the public — seduced, bewildered, enchanted — still followed him, and condescended to bring down their morals and their manners to his degraded and degrading standard" in Recollections of a Lifetime (1857) 2:104-05.



He strikes that harp again, whose hallow'd tone
He oft has rais'd so wildly and so well!
And to that theme (though years between have flown)
Whose echoings yet upon our heartstrings dwell:
In laurel'd majesty he comes to tell
Of Him whose tale pourtray'd his earlier days,
Sweeping with mellow'd hand his deep-strung shell,
That Hate stands mute, and listening to such lays
E'en Envy's self allows her half-reluctant praise.

Though life on him its darkest influence shed,
His were the woes that elevate the soul,
As storms around some lofty mountain's head,
A while obscuring, in their rage may role,
Yet give a wilder grandeur to the whole.
So Grief his mighty mind's impetuous rush
Perhaps perverted, but could not controul:
Unknown to him the meaner cares that crush
The tender buds of thought, in youth's luxurious flush!

If there is aught on earth could make us deem
That man is somewhat more than fragile clay,
It is that such a spirit does not seem
Fram'd with its fleshly covering to decay:
Oh, if a soul like his can pass away,
And into dull annihilation go;
Who on this stormy scene would lingering stay
To drain the last dregs of his draught of woe,
But quit the bitter cup, and rest in peace below?

Then let us rather hope that we meet again above:
Our purer essence there may mingle free
With what on earth it hardly dares to love.
That life these mortal barriers shall remove,
That long the kindred soul's communion part.
No more that cold obstruction shall we prove,
When here the struggling bosom strives to dart
Its vivid feeling's flash on some congenial heart!

One, who at times hath laid his youthful hand,
Albeit with holy rev'rence, on the lyre,
When such a page as Harold's he had scann'd,
Would, turning to his conscious breast, inquire,
And am I too a Poet? — and retire.
While such a Bard awakes the living strain,
Enough for him in silence to admire,
Or, if he raise his powerless voice again,
'Tis but to feel himself how poor, how weak, how vain!

[pp. 63-64]