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THOMSON is the best and most original of our descriptive poets. He had nature; but, through indolence or affectation, too often embellished it with the gaudy ornaments of art. Where he gave way to his genuine impulses, he was excellent. He had invention in the choice of his subject (the Seasons), some fancy, wit and humour of a most voluptuous kind; in the Castle of Indolence, great descriptive power. His elegance is tawdriness; his ease slovenliness; he sometimes rises into sublimity, as in his account of the Torrid and Frozen Zones; he has occasional pathos too, as in his Traveller Lust in the Snow; his style is barbarous, and his ear heavy and bad.
COLLINS, of all our Minor poets, that is, those who have attempted only short pieces, is probably the one who has shewn the most of the highest qualities of poetry, and who excites the most intense interest in the bosom of the reader. He soars into the regions of imagination, and occupies the highest peaks of Parnassus. His fancy is glowing, vivid, but at the same time hasty and obscure. Gray's sublimity was borrowed and mechanical, compared to Collins's, who has the true inspiration, the vivida vis of the poet. He heats and melts objects in the fervour of his genius, as in a furnace. See his Odes to Fear, On the Poetical Character, and To Evening. The Ode on the Passions is the most popular, but the most artificial of his principal ones. His qualities were fancy, sublimity of conception, and no mean degree of pathos, as in the Eclogues, and the Dirge in Cymbeline.
DYER'S GRONGAR Hill is a beautiful moral and descriptive effusion, with much elegance, and perfect ease of style and versification.
SHENSTONE was a writer inclined to feebleness and affectation : but when he could divest himself of sickly pretensions, he produces occasional excellence of a high degree. His School-MISTRESS is the perfection of naïve description, and of that mixture of pathos and humour, than which nothing is more delightful or rare.
MALLET was a poet of small merit-but every one has read his Edwin and Emma, and no one ever forgot it.
AKENSIDE is a poet of considerable power, but of little taste or feeling. His thoughts, like his style, are stately and imposing, but turgid and gaudy. In his verse “ less is meant than meets the ear." He has
some merit in the invention of the subject (the Pleasures of Imagination) his poem being the first of a series of similar ones on the faculties of the mind, as the Pleasures of Memory, of Hope, &c.
YOUNG is a poet who has been much over-rated from the popularity of his subject, and the glitter and lofty pretensions of his style. I wished to have made more extracts from the Night-Thoughts, but was constantly repelled by the tinsel of expression, the false ornaments, and laboured conceits. Of all writers who have gained a great name, he is the most meretricious and objectionable. His is false wit, false fancy, false sublimity, and mock-tenderness. At least, it appears so to me.
GRAY was an author of great pretensions, but of great merit. He has an air of sublimity, if not the reality. He aims at the highest things; and if he fails, it is only by a hair's-breadth. His pathos is injured, like his sublimity, by too great an ambition after the ornaments and machinery of poetry. His craving after foreign help perhaps shews the want of the internal impulse. His Elegy in a Country Church-yard, which is the most simple, is the best of his productions.
CHURCHILL is a fine rough satirist. and honesty.
He had sense, wit, eloquence,
GOLDSMITH, both in his verse and prose, was one of the most delightful writers in the language. His verse flows like a limpid stream. His ease is quite unconscious. Every thing in him is spontaneous, unstudied, unaffected, yet elegant, harmonious, graceful, nearly faultless. Without the point or refinement of Pope, he has more natural tenderness, a greater suavity of manner, a more genial spirit. Goldsmith never rises into sublimity, and seldom sinks into insipidity, or stumbles upon coarseness. His Traveller contains masterly national sketches. The Deserted Village is sometimes spun out into a mawkish sentimentality; but the characters of the Village Schoolmaster, and the Village Clergyman redeem a hundred faults. His Retaliation is a poem of exquisite spirit, humour, and freedom of style.
ARMSTRONG'S Art of Preserving Health displays a fine natural vein of sense and poetry on a most unpromising subject.
CRITICAL LIST OF AUTHORS.
CHATTERTON'S Remains shew great premature power, but are chiefly interesting from his fate. He discovered great boldness of spirit and versatility of talent; yet probably, if he had lived, would not have increased his reputation for genius.
THOMAS WARTON was a man of taste and genius. I cannot help preferring to any in the language.
COWPER is the last of the English poets in the first division of this collection, but though last, not least. He is, after Thomson, the best of our descriptive poets more minute and graphical, but with less warmth of feeling and natural enthusiasm than the author of The Seasons. He has also fine manly sense, a pensive and interesting turn of thought, tenderness occasionally running into the most touching pathos, and a patriotic or religious zeal mounting almost into sublimity. He had great simplicity with terseness of style: his versification is neither strikingly faulty nor excellent. His occasional copies of verses have great elegance; and his John Gilpin is one of the most humourous pieces in the language.
BURNS concludes the series of the Illustrious Dead; and one
In might be tempted to write an elegy rather than a criticism on him. naïvete, in spirit, in characteristic humour, in vivid description of natural objects and of the natural feelings of the heart, he has left behind him no superior.
Of the living poets I wish to speak freely, but candidly.
ROGERS is an elegant and highly polished writer, but without much originality or power. He seenis to have paid the chief attention to his style-Materiam superabat opus. He writes however with an admiration of the Muse, and with an interest in humanity.
CAMPBELL has equal elegance, equal elaborateness, with more power and scope both of thought and fancy. His Pleasures of Hope is too artificial and antithetical; but his Gertrude of Wyoming strikes at the heart of nature, and has passages of extreme interest, with an air of tenderness and sweetness over the whole, like the breath of flowers. Some of his shorter effusions have great force and animation, and a patriotic fire.
BLOOMFIELD'S excellence is confined to a minute and often interesting description of individual objects in nature, in which he is surpassed perhaps by no one.
CRABBE is a writer of great power, but of a perverse and morbid taste. He gives the very objects and feelings he treats of, whether in morals or rural scenery, but he gives none but the most uninteresting or the most painful. His poems are a sort of funeral dirge over human life, but without pity, without hope.
He has neither smiles nor tears for his readers.
COLERIDGE has shewn great wildness of conception in his Ancient Marinet, sublimity of imagery in his Ode to the Departing Year, grotesqueness of fancy in his Fire, Famine, and Slaughter, and tenderness of sentiment in his Genevieve. He has however produced nothing equal to
Mr. WORDSWORTH'S characteristic is one, and may be expressed in one word ;-a power of raising the smallest things in nature into sublimity by the force of sentiment. He attaches the deepest and loftiest feelings to the meanest and most superficial objects. liarity is his combination of simplicity of subject with profundity and power of execution. He has no fancy, no wit, no humour, little descriptive power, no dramatic power, great occasional elegance, with continual rusticity and baldness of allusion ; but he is sublime without the Muse's aid, pathetic in the contemplation of his own and man's nature ; add to this, that his style is natural and severe, and his versification sonorous and expressive.
Mr. SOUTHEY'S talent in poetry lies chiefly in fancy and the invention of his subject. Some of his oriental descriptions, characters, and fables, are wonderfully striking and impressive, but there is an air of extravagance in them, and his versification is abrupt, affected, and repulsive. In his early poetry there is a vein of patriotic fervour, and mild and beautiful moral reflection.
Sir WALTER SCOTT is the most popular of our living poets. His excellence is romantic narrative and picturesque description. He has great bustle, great rapidity of action and flow of versification, with a sufficient distinctness of character, and command of the ornaments of style. He has neither lofty imagination, nor depth or intensity of feeling; vividness of mind is apparently his chief and pervading excellence.
Mr. C. LAMB has produced no poems equal to his prose writings : but I could not resist the temptation of transferring into this collection his Farewell to Tobacco, and some of the sketches in his John Woodvil; the first of which is rarely surpassed in quaint wit, and the last in pure feeling
MONTGOMERY is an amiable and pleasing versifier, who puts his heart and fancy into whatever he composes.
Lord BYRON'S distinguishing quality is intensity of conception and expression. He wills to be sublime or pathetic. He has great wildness of invention, brilliant and elegant fancy, caustic wit, but no humour. Gray's description of the poetical character—" Thoughts that glow, and words that burn,"-applies to him more than to any of his contemporaries.
THOMAS MOORE is the greatest wit now living. His light, ironical pieces are unrivalled for point and facility of execution. His fancy is delightful and brilliant, and his songs have gone to the heart of a nation.
LEIGH HUNT has shewn great wit in his Feast of the Poets, elegance in his occasional verses, and power of description and pathos in his Story of Rimini. The whole of the third canto of that poem is as chaste as it is classical.
The late Mr. SHELLEY (for he is dead since the commencement of this publication) was chiefly distinguished by a fervour of philosophic speculation, which he clad in the garb of fancy, and in words of Tyrian die. He had spirit and genius, but his eagerness to give effect and produce conviction often defeated his object, and bewildered himself and his readers.
Lord THURLOW has written some very unaccountable, but some occasionally good and feeling poetry.