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copy of the Orphan, or of Venice Preserved, before he can admit that that unhappy genius had any title to die the poetical death ofhunger; for Mr Southey's book will only treat him to one of the wretchedest copies of verses that ever was written by a lord or an alderman. If he languishes for a sight of Dryden's commanding graces, he must seek for them somewhere else than in the Specimens of Mr Southey. He will only find in that collection, a paraphrase of some monkish Latin, and a couple of epilogues, which will not throw him into raptures. He may have heard of Thomson's enchanting Castle of Indolence; but again he must be put to the extra charge of purchasing the work, or groping for his beauties in the Elegant Extracts.
From the words of the preface which we have already quoted, it will still, however, be an obvious apology of the editor, that without including the best specimens of our best poets, the object of the publication will still be served, if posterity are enabled to judge of the taste of their predecessors, by the reprobate herd, as well as the elect few, of the writers in verse whom he has specimenized. If,' as Mr Southey says, the taste of the public may be better estimated from indifferent, than from good poets, a Whitehead or a Sprat may do as well for such selections, as a Dryden
Bullies of o'ergrown bulks and little fouls-
Because to their lewd understandings fit-
grew in love with a deceitful mufe
I chafed-I bit my' pen, curft my dull skull, and rail'd,
Dryden or a Thomson. But we have no hesitation to enter our protest against such an assertion. The taste of no age is to be deduced from the mere existence of a swarm of scribblers. Their existence may arise from the want of brighter geniuses to eclipse them, or they may be scintillations struck off from superior luminaries, like the train which follows the comet. If such petty sparks of literature fly up in the dark during a particular era, they may indeed prove the want of genius, but not the want of taste, in the age which tolerates them. But they receive, it may be said, encouragement and admiration. If Mr Southey had given us decisive evidence that one tenth part of the herd of indifferent poets, whom he seems himself so duly to contemn, had been favourites with the public, we should excuse their being registered as evidences against the taste of the age. But no such proofs are adduced. They wrote and published; and the public is neither to be praised nor blamed for their so doing.
We are perfectly aware how difficult it may be for the compiler of specimens, such as these before us, to fix the exact line of discrimination between admissible and inadmissible poets. In a work professing to give specimens of a long succession of poets, many indifferent specimens must necessarily enter. Our objection is not at finding some indifferent poetry, but at finding too much of it; and by far too little of what may guide the future reader, for whom it is professedly written, to form a fair estimate of the poetry written for an hundred and fifty years past. If, to ascertain the changes and appearances of British taste at different periods, it was necessary to rake together such trash as the works of Græme, Baker, Iliffernan, Kenrick, &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. we think it was incumbent on the editor to have given us nothing less than a graduated scale of the estimation that was attached to each of their works, to let us see how high or how low above zero they severally stood in the public opinion. Assuredly their works are, for their own sake, neither worth printing nor reading; but if they served to illustrate so curious a fact as the state of the public taste at this or that period, their value might be extrinsically increased. Here, however, a difficulty occurs: we know that they printed their works, for the printed books are before us; but we know not the exact reception they received from the reading public. It would be very unfair, all our readers will allow, to estimate their popularity by peeping into reviews. What, then, are we to know of the state of public taste from such a farrago;-or what useful purpose, under heaven, is accomplished, by preserving specimens of these verse-tackers? To think of serving the cause of taste by the preservation of insipidities and deformities, is like promoting the study
study of sculpture, by collecting the bottled fragments of flesh, and the injected preparations of anatomy.
If the curious reader should be distressed to know the state of public taste in his father's, or his grandfather's time, he had assuredly better trust to the good than the bad poets of the age, for a cue to his researches. A few instances of neglected merit, no doubt, will occur; but if he wishes to know the taste of the period of Pope, let him read Pope, not Betterton; of the period of Thomson, let him read Thomson, not Mitchell. The existence of men of genius, such as Pope, Thomson and Gray, proves something definite and certain; it proves that there was genius in the eighteenth century, and taste to feel and revere it. The existence of half an hundred scribblers, proves nothing at all.
The nominal English poets have been extended in number beyond all toleration, by the ignorance, the bad taste, or the avarice of those who have edited their works for profit. To those who have been unworthily introduced, Mr Southey, though far removed above such motives, has added some very insignificant names. We recollect, however, his previous apology, that he wished to exhibit specimens of every writer, whose verses have appeared in a substantive form, and find their place upon the shelves of the collector. This was to accomplish his scheme of a hortus siccus. But if every writer, good, bad and indifferent, was to be haled into his system of dry gardening, we wonder that the list was so narrow. Many valuable bad versifiers, we are sure, have been defrauded of their place in this collection. It is quite impossible, that, since the age of James the Second, only 223 poets, of all descriptions, have published their works. We think, with tolerable industry, as many thousand might have been strung together; and the reader, instead of three, might have had the inestimable satisfaction of perusing thirty volumes, of evidences of the bad taste of his forefathers.
By the guarded title of Later English Poets,' Mr Southey seems not to consider himself bound to give us specimens of the last; yet he has included Cowper, one of the very latest deceased of our good poets. From such an extension of his boundaries, we should have expected Beattie and Anstey (author of the New Bath Guide) to have been admitted also. We regret also, that his industry has not been directed to discover some of the floating fugitive pieces of a man whose genius as a poet was still superior to his powers as a critic, Stephens, the colleague of Johnson in his edition of Shakespeare. It is true, the poems of Stephens were never put into a substantive or collective form; but the cause of good taste requires that his name should not be forgotten. A poem of this man, purporting to be written to his
mistress on her marriage with a fortunate rival, possesses the very
You'll in your girls again be courted,
has so much simplicity and merit, as to make us regret it should
In his specimens of the better sort of poets, the editor has frequently selected their worst pieces; either from inadvertency, or from an idea which we conceive to be erroneous, that because something they have written is already known and popular, it would be impertinent to introduce it in the present volume. To one of those causes we must attribute his presenting us with some indifferent pieces of Langhorne, instead of his beautiful story of Owen of Carron, which has, and has alone, made him acceptable to the bulk of judicious readers.
Among the new names of poets, introduced by this selection, there is one which poetry will be proud of admitting into the number of her votaries even with inferior pretensions. This is Sir William Blackstone. After so freely animadverting on what appear to us the blemishes of this collection, it affords us pleasure to thank Mr Southey for having presented the public with a copy of verses by that ornament of his country; whose poetical vein, we believe, is a fact hitherto little known, and whose verses, though not of the highest cast of poetry, are tolerably correct, and expressive of an amiable mind.
THE LAWYER'S FAREWELL TO HIS MUSE.
As by fome tyrant's ftern command,
How blythefome were we wont to rove
But now the pleafing dream is o'er,