1820
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Peter Faultless to his Brother Simon.

Peter Faultless to his Brother Simon, Tales of Night, in Rhyme, and other Poems. By the Author of Night.

Ebenezer Elliott


In an attack on the Monthly Review Ebenezer Elliot links Robert Southey's name to Spenser in a catalogue of poets, as Shakespeare's with Walter Scott and Charles Churchill's with Lord Byron. Elliott's preface condemns reviewers who "Still lash the imps who try, nor try in vain, | To wake the muses of Eliza's reign."

Robert Southey to Ebeneezer Elliott: "In your execution you are too exuberant in ornament, and resemble the French engravers, who take off the attention from the subject of their prints by the flowers and trappings of the foreground. This makes you indistinct; but distinctness is the great charm of narrative poetry; see how beautifully it is exemplified in Spenser, our great English master of narrative, whom you cannot study too much, nor love too dearly. Your first book reminded me of an old pastoral poet — William Brown: he has the same fault of burying his story in flowers; it is one of those faults which are to be wished for in the writings of all young poets" 22 November 1809; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 3:266.

William Howitt: "Ebenezer Elliott is certainly one of the greatest 'Curiosities of Literature.' He has not only proved himself a poet in spite of twenty years of most dogged deafness to his claims, but a poet that has set fortune as well as the critics at defiance, and has at once won fame and wealth. I believe that on his settling in Sheffield he possessed nothing but a wife and three or four children, but he has managed to retire from trade with some eight or ten children, and a good round sum of thousands of pounds. He has bravely scorned all 'The perils that environ | The man who meddles with cold iron;' and has set a glorious example to future genius — to rely on its own intimations, and not on reviews; to assert the rights of mind, and yet not to neglect business. In him stands a living proof that poetry and worldly prosperity can go hand in hand" Homes and Haunts of the British Poets (1847) 2:420.

W. Davenport Adams: "Ebenezer Elliott, poet (b. 1781, d. 1849), wrote Corn-Law Rhymes, Corn-Law Hymns, The Vernal Walk, Love, The Village Patriarch, The Splendid Village, &c. His Works appeared in 1834, 1840, and 1876. See the Life by Searle. 'Elliott,' says Alexander Smith, 'is the poet of the English artisans — men who read newspapers and books, who are members of mechanics' institutes, who attend debating societies, who discuss political measures and political men, who are tormented by ideas. His poems are of the angriest, but their anger is not altogether undivine'" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 199.

Oliver Elton: "Ebenezer Elliott (1781-1849) is of the soil too; his best work has the scent of it, of Yorkshire not of the Midlands. 'Art thou nigh, grey month of April?' he cries; it is a touch like Walt Whitman's. The 'flaskering duck,' the 'satin-thread flowers' of the bramble, the sloe-blossom; and again the heather, with the holidaying hands and their 'smoke-dried dog'; these he watches and likes; and in several of his poems, such as 'The Maltby Yew,' or 'Wonders of the Lane,' the vision and relish of nature, in this unassuming fashion, are the main affair. Unluckily it is all much overlaid and spoilt. Elliott is not unlettered, but is only too much lettered, imitating Crabbe, or Campbell, or Montgomery, as the case may be, with little discernment. Crabbe is his best teacher, and some of the things he does in Crabbe's kind are genuine, because he knows the humble life that he describes; it is, indeed, his own life" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 2:270.



Owl-eyed to splendour, eagle-ey'd to spy
Spots on the disk of glory, Envy's eye
Admires no loveliness, beholds no worth;
Her soul is darkness, for her brain is earth:
No joy she knows, but in another's smart;
No God she worships, but her own black heart.
Hell dreads her coming, with erected hair,
For, envy absent, 'tis Elysium there!
No fiend, o'er fiery broth, with hollow eye,
Pines to behold his neighbour's brimstone pye;
No sparkless devil damns, in scribbling ire,
The happier, hotter devil's pen of fire;
But Satan, pleas'd, resigns his earthly throne,
And swears our monthly hell exceeds his own
In dulness, darkness — every thing, but light:
Down, zealous Simon, set his dunces right!
Run, mother Ph—ps, teach his worship spite!
Back to that isle, the banish'd maids of song
Let Southey lead, with stripling hand, along.
Struck by th' assassin's blow, let genius come,
Knock at his heart, and find her friend at home,
From her pierc'd brain to draw th' envenom'd steel,
And all but cure the wound which death must heal.
Let him, with Spenser's mastery, and his own,
Paint Madoc, David, Conrade, Rhoderic, Joan;
Wild Laila, fiction's cherub; in her sire
Evil, that will not hope; in Julian's ire,
Faith wounded, trampling glory in the dust,
Arm'd vengeance, almost in rebellion just;
What in Florinda? beauty, sorrow, worth,
A suffering angel, in the garb of earth.
Let him to light drag Hades; bid the deep,
Reserv'd for him, Fate's awful secrets keep;
And (wildest spirit, on the strongest wing)
Soar sightless heights, a matchless wreath to bring
From that bright heav'n, where none but he durst soar,
And never flower was snatch'd for truth before.
Triumphant o'er the ear-offending tone,
Sublimely mournful, let Sheaf's bard, alone,
Attain in rhyme great Shakespeare's rhymeless ease,
The pleasing sweet that never fails to please.
Tearing from want's dread woes the rags and all,
Let Crabbe the eye of startled ease appal,
Obtrude a gorgon on his dream of bliss,
And show poor human nature as it is.
Let Erin's child produce his wond'rous gem,
And set the emerald in her diadem,
That she, unrivall'd in her sons before,
May strike ev'n envy silent, bless'd with Moore.
What second Shakespeare, faultless without plan,
Creates anew the wond'rous Proteus, Man?
Who steals from Heav'n a pencil wildly true?
Scott, Scott alone, can draw as Shakespeare drew,
Dip the heath's bell in immortality,
Bid landscapes bloom in hues that cannot die,
Paint battle's rage, while awe his hand controls,
And sketch the surge of horror as it rolls;
Or, give the wild weird sisters' attributes
To her whose wildness well such horror suits,
More dire than they who made their presence — air,
Who seem'd not of the earth, and yet were there.
Let Byron, in his hurried line, condense
"Impassion'd music," energy, and sense,
And proudly reign, with misanthropic scowl,
Lord of the realms of pathos and of soul;
Or snatch from Churchill's urn, with dreadful hand,
Resistless satire's asp, and torturing brand;
Or play at boyhood, with a seraph's smile,
Drink on love's lip the sweetness, with the guile,
Win wisdom's heart, by praising her darn'd hose,
And, laughing, rip her garment, in the close.

[pp. 24-27]