Page images

applied these precepts to the eloquence of the bar, the senate, and the pulpit. He also followed Mason in issuing his work in parts (1785-9) and in adopting the style, diction, and prosody of Paradise Lost.1 Here, however, the similarity ends, for the English Orator affords no relief from the pompous dulness of such lines as these:

Hence the Strength

Of Argument, whate'er its destin'd End,
Educe; and to the litigated Point
Apply, not careless of forensic Forms.?

Hartley Coleridge could, therefore, hardly have been familiar with Polwhele's work when he wrote of the English Garden, "We will not ... say that it is the dullest poem we ever read, but it is assuredly one of the dullest we ever attempted to read."3 Much less could he have known the twelve hundred lines which Thomas Gibbons, the author of some forty or fifty works, issued in 1772 under the title The Christian Minister. The following bare, prosaic passage from Gibbons's tract is in marked contrast to Polwhele's turgidity:

Let ev'ry Action, ev'ry Look arise

From what you feel within. Address your Flock
Much as you would address a Friend, who ask'd
Your sentiments on some momentous Point."

The Essex literary society of which Polwhele was a contentious member also included a literary physician, Hugh Downman, who wrote Miltonic blank verse, octosyllabics, and sonnets, and discussed the sonnet form with the author of the English Orator. This work may, indeed, have been influenced by Downman's Infancy, or the Management of Children, which, as it appeared in three parts in

1 In his notes to i. 65 and iv. 654 Polwhele quotes from Milton's Of Education and Paradise Lost, and at the opening of his fourth book takes a line from the latter (P. L., i. 10-11), refers to Ithuriel's spear, and summons the "Muse of Fire"

whom God's own Bard

Sounding to epic Notes his Harp, invok'd.


For other poems of Polwhele's that show the influence of Milton, see Bibls. I, 1787, 1787 w., 1794-6 w., 1798, and III c, 1790 w.; for his sonnets, Bibl. IV, 1777

2 ii. 37-40.

3 Northern Worthies (1852), ii. 348. It seems to me that, although the English Garden is far from being a joy forever, it is not particularly dull for those who are interested in its subject.

i. 291-4. Gibbons was a dissenting minister whom Johnson "took to" (Boswell's Life, ed. Hill, iv. 126). For his brief translations and original pieces in Miltonic blank verse, see Bibl. I, 1745 w., 1750, 1772.

5 Some of the letters that passed between the two men are printed in Polwhele's Traditions and Recollections (1826) and Reminiscences (1836). For Downman, see below, pp. 471, 495 n. 2; Bibls. I, 1760 w., 1774–6, 1787 w., 1803; II, 1761 w., 1767 w., 1792; IV, 1767-.

1774, 1775, and 1776, preceded Polwhele's treatise by ten years. Infancy is a versified Care and Feeding of Children, and seems to have occupied much the same position in the eighteenth century that Dr. Holt's work does in the twentieth. To-day no physician would think of composing a poem on the subject, and no mother of buying such a production if it were composed; yet seven editions were called for by the mothers of that time. Downman's popularity must have been due principally to his detailed, sensible, and somewhat advanced treatment of a subject that has wide appeal.' He divided his poem into six books, which discuss the early care of the child, its diet, clothing, exercise, and diseases. Like the author of the English Garden, he invoked

Simplicity, who hates

The swelling phrase bombast, the insipid term
Pompously introduced;

but his conception of this lady was even more curious than Mason's, for he commonly wrote after this fashion,

Nice, and perhaps erroneous in their plan,
The younger animals as yielding less

Of due nutrition, and digested slow,

Some disallow. That, food prepared from those

Of growth mature, thro the intestinal maze
Less tardily proceeds, we not deny."

This style, vicious in itself and quite unsuited to the subject, probably owed not a little to Akenside, whose elegant but frigid dignity seems particularly to have attracted Downman. Yet the poem is not without interest, for the defects of expression cannot entirely obscure the author's enthusiasm, good sense, and poetic feeling.

Infancy was reprinted as late as 1809, when the vogue of the versified technical treatise was about over. Apparently but eight works of the kind were written in the nineteenth century, and three of these, including T. P. Lathy's Angler (1819), are in rime, while a fourth, Jerome Alley's Judge (1803), is taken up principally with fulsome praise of an Irish chancellor. Of another Angler, which W. H.

1 For example, he urges light, loose clothing for infants, says their legs and feet should be uncovered until they can walk, and condemns "the cradle's most absurd Pernicious motion” (iv. 99 ff., 303–7; v. 201–2).

2 ii. 14-16; iii. 267-72. He recognized some of his themes as "unanimating," and "strove to adorn” them (iv. 100, 103). An amusing attempt at such adornment is his

[ocr errors]

descant" on pinning the baby's “vesture” (iv. 149–59). In iii. 526-8 he praises the "polisht taste," "art," "rural wildness, and simplicity" of the English Garden, and in the lines immediately preceding commends Armstrong.

3 See iii. 518-21; iv. 505-14.

Lord Clare, who had recently died. The 1558 lines of this dull work contain such

Ireland published in 1804 over the name "Charles Clifford," and of T. F. Dibdin's Bibliography (1812), only the first books were issued; but Dibdin's poem was privately printed, and the failure of Ireland's dull piece largely given over to digressions proves nothing as to the popularity of the literary type to which it belongs. John Vincent's Fowling, for example, met with no such indifference when it appeared four years later, although it may have owed its second edition to pleasant descriptive passages like the following:

As up the rugged path I press, how wide
The prospect opens, but not here bedeck'd
From Summer's varied and fantastic loom,
But clad in mantle coarse of sober brown
And dusky purple mix'd; one homely hue
Stretches unvaried round, save where some rock
Lifts its gray forehead.1

Except for Grahame's British Georgics (1809),2 Fowling seems to have been the last technical treatise of any importance. For over a hundred years this form in which our great-grandfathers found pleasure has been extinct, and for obvious reasons. Verse is no longer a means of attracting us to a dull subject, and for practical purposes we now demand a direct, scientific, accurate treatment of a matter such as is possible only in prose. More than this, we are now agreed that poetry is not adapted to handbooks of agriculture or of hygiene, and we realize that the ornament and buckram with which eighteenth-century bards tried to make such works seem poetic only render them ridiculous. "Familiar images in laboured language have," as Johnson said, "nothing to recommend them but absurd novelty," and, as most of these artless treatises on the arts are written in verse which "seems to be verse only to the eye,' they constitute a dreary waste profitable only for a better understanding of the period and refreshing only in their incidental descriptions.


From the number of these didactic poems and the frequency with which some of them were reprinted, it might appear that their dullness and absurdity were not felt at the time. But the age of Fielding, gems of expression as "plausive cherubs" (i. 305), "if she not find within her procreant glebe" (i. 37), "by pure comments sage, meantime, illumes" (iii. 703).

1 Fowling: a Poem in five books, descriptive of Grouse, Partridge, Pheasant, Woodcock, Duck, and Snipe Shooting (1808, 2d ed. 1812). I know of the poem only from W. H. K. Wright's West-Country Poets (1896, pp. 459–60), and from the Monthly Review (enl. ed., lx. 320), which speaks well of it. Vincent was an Oxford man who died in Bengal in 1818 as chaplain of the East India Company.

2 See above, pp. 269-70.

* See "Somervile" and "Milton," in Lives (ed. Hill), ii. 320, i. 193.

Goldsmith, and Sterne was far from lacking a sense of humor, and was by no means so blind as it is sometimes pictured. "All the assembled wits burst into a laugh," we are told, when Grainger (who was reading his Sugar-Cane at Sir Joshua Reynolds's), "after much blank-verse pomp. . . began a new paragraph thus:

'Now, Muse, let's sing of rats.' . . .


'What could he make of a sugar-cane?"" exclaimed Johnson, on hearing the story. "One might as well write the Parsley-bed, a Poem; or The Cabbage-garden, a Poem.""1 Of The Fleece the same apostle of common sense remarked, "The subject, Sir, cannot be made poetical. How can a man write poetically of serges and druggets?" Nor were such criticisms unusual. The letters and diaries of the period record opinions of contemporary verse that are often no more flattering than our own, and the critical reviews could hardly have been more caustic than they were or more unsparing in their condemnation of literary mediocrity. The reviewers seem, indeed, to have felt that most of the poetry and fiction published in the latter half of the eighteenth century was not worth reading.3

Even the more popular periodicals found amusement in the rambling bombast of the versified tractates, for in 1802 the European Magazine parodied them in what was alleged to be a fragment of the Art of Candle-Making, a Didactic Poem, in twenty books. The author had certainly felt the absurdity of imitating Paradise Lost in such a treatise:

[ocr errors]

Inspir'd by Hops, a bard has sung its praise,
And prov'd its influence in narcotic strains:
The Cyder-making and Wool-combing arts
Have both found bards their secrets to explain.
Say, why should Candles be alone unsung?
No! I shall sooner seize th' advent'rous pen;
And, though unequal to so great a task,
Shall, in Miltonic numbers, nobly dare
To paint the labours of a Melting day.


He had also noticed, as the "argument of book i" shows, the discursiveness, the fondness for moralizing and for classical allusion, that mars these preceptive lays:

2 Ib. 453.

1 Boswell's Johnson (ed. Hill), ii. 453-4.

The defects of Smart's Hop-Garden, for example, are admirably pointed out and traced to their causes in the Monthly Review, vii. 139-42. Perhaps the greatest fault of the eighteenth-century reviewers was their tendency to speak well of a mediocre work if it taught morality and religion. Here is a typical comment: "If this work has but a slight claim to praise for its poetical or philosophical merit, it yet challenges our approbation for being the zealous advocate of religion and virtue' (ib., enl. ed., 1800, xxxii.


Subject proposed Invocation -The subject proved to be of great importance to Poets-To Lovers - The tale of Hero and Leander - To Moralists -The resemblance a Candle bears to the life of Man - The story of Prometheus, the inventor of Candles Remarks on the Mythology of the Ancients Ovid-Hesiod Homer Of Machinery - The early ages fond of it, and why? The story of Theseus and Ariadne - Light-houses, the great benefit of-Eddystone Light house-Candles probably made use of on this occasion among the Ancients - Light — Sir Isaac Newton - Optics - Astronomy Chronology - Age of the World not known Moses - Bonaparte -Friar Bacon - Conclusion.1

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1 Europ. Mag., xlii. 424-6. The extensive notes, another feature of the piece, make it clear that Smart, Philips, and Dyer are the writers parodied.

« PreviousContinue »