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Sonnet written at Midnight,
BY MR. R. A. DAVENPORT.
Ye disembodied spirits, who have past
Vain wish! ye hear not, or the ever-just
Peace then, my soul! adore, and humbly trust!
The writer of this sonnet we understand to be the conductor of the miscellany. His own contributions evince his competency to the annual task; and the patronage of the public, we should hope, will animate him to persevere.
At the end of the poetry concise criticisms are given on the epic, dramatic, and miscellaneous poems which appeared in 1801, with a catalogue only of such as are entitled to less particular distinction: These are followed by an interesting memoir of Mrs. Chapone, from the pen of Mrs. Barbauld; an admirable critique on the versification of Southey, by the celebrated Miss Seward; a chronological list of living poetical writers; and notices of publications in the press, or preparing for it.
It is the editor's intention, we should add, to publish the Poetical Register in the month of February, for which purpose it is requested of correspondents to transmit their contributions, under cover, to Messrs. Rivingtons, as early as possible, that sufficient time may be allowed for the arrangement of materials.
Poems by Mrs. Opie. 12mo. pp. 192. London 1802.
HOWEVER fabulous the tale of Hesiod may be deemed, respecting the daughters of Mnemosyne, it cannot be denied, in this our day, that the Muses of Britain are become more numerous than ever the bard of Ascra reported of ancient Greece. In the "Poetical Register" for 1801, we found a record of 15 living Poetesses in Albion's favour'd isle; and we think the number might be extended. Though "last, not least” distinguished, on that Parnassian roll, is the fair authoress of the present publication, which
composes an assemblage of heart-emaning effusions on subjects of domestic interest, of classical elegance, or of general philanthropy. We shall select a specimen of the latter description, and must refer our readers to the volume itself for farther gratification.
Lines written at Norwich on the first News of PEACE.
Talk not of Peace,-the sound I hate,'-
Poor mourner! at thy tale of grief
The crowd was mute and sad awhile;
Full soon they check'd the tender sigh
Their glowing hearts to pity gave;
And from all hearts, as sad she past,
This virtuous prayer her sorrow draws :" Grant, Heaven, those tears may be the last, That war, detested war, shall cause!'
Oh! if with pure ambition fraught
All nations join this virtuous prayer,
No longer wish to slay, but spare,
Then hostile bands on War's red plain,
For conquest have not vainly burn'd,
The Works of the English Poets. With Prefaces Biographical and. Re-edited, with new BioAikin, M. D. [Vol. 1—6, Large and Small 800.
Critical, by Samuel Johnson, LL.D. graphical and Critical Matter, by J. including the Poems of Spenser.] London, 1802.
Two editions of Dr. Johnson's English Poets having been sold off by the London booksellers, and another of Dr. Anderson's British Poets, by the booksellers of London and Edinburgh; a new adventurer has started in the field of bibliopolic speculation, aided by the pen of Dr. Aikin, the pencil of Stothard, and the burin of Heath. With such auxiliars, there is only one impediment which appears likely to obstruct success; and this will arise from a want of co-operation on the part of the original publishers, who may feel their rights encroached upon, by this unscrupulous endeavour to wrest the republication of Johnson's poets from their hands. But this is a commercial difference which must be regulated among themselves. Dr.
Aikin, we conceive, has done an act of poetical justice, at least, by admitting Spenser to take the lead, as an English classic, instead of our metaphysical Cowley. The previous studies of the learned. editor, have not, indeed, qualified him to become a commentator on the Faery Queene; nor to undertake an edition of our great allegorical poet, on that comprehensive plan of illustration proposed by Mr. Todd, and which, according to Warton, is the only plan on which an old English poet can be well illustrated; but to the popular -taste perhaps, if not to the critical eye or ear, Dr. Aikin may contribute to recommend the poësy of Spenser, by studiously consulting typographical beauty, though he attempts not to rectify inaccuracies, or to elucidate obscurities. That he should not have been advised by some poetic antiquary to follow the text of Church in preference to that of Upton, is much to be lamented; since the latter is chargeable with many errors which are not imputable to Spenser, and from which Church's carefully-collated edition is generally free.
The preliminary essay by Dr. Aikin, like what he has formerly published, is perspicuous and elegant; but, in point of information, far less satisfactory than what he has prefixed to the works of more modern poets. This obvious failure necessarily results from having cultivated in a slighter degree, the literature of the period to which Spenser belonged. Hence, no particular is added to the commonplace account of his life, nor is a ray of intelligence reflected from the page of any contemporary writer. Hence, also, is Spenser considered as the author of "pastoral strains," which were chiefly composed by others; and his versification is charged with licentious peculiarities, which were common to the versifiers of his age. The' following view of the plan of Spenser's principal poem is liable to less exception; though anticipated by Worton's " Observations."
"The FAERY QUEENE, the inseparable companion of Spenser's fame, is one of the most singular poems extant in any language; and from the unfinished state in which we possess it, we should probably have found it impos sible to form a clear conception of the author's plan in writing it, had he not, in a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, prefixed to the publication of the first three books, given its general argument. We there learn, that his leading purpose -a truly noble one-was to train a person of rank in "vertuous and gentle discipline," by exhibiting a perfect example of the twelve private moral virtues, as they are enumerated by Aristotle. This is done in "a continued allegory or dark conceit," rendered more dark than the usual obscurity of allegorical fiction by an extraordinary involution of the plot. The general hero, or image of perfect excellence, is the British Prince Arthur, so renowned in legendary
story; yet each several book has its particular hero, whose adventures allegorically display the exercise of that virtue which is the proper subject of the book. In order, therefore, to preserve the unity of the whole, Prince Arthur is occasionally introduced as an auxiliary of these allegorical knights in their most dangerous adventures. The quality peculiarly attributed to him is magnificence, which, in modern language, would perhaps rather be termed magnanimity, or greatness of soul, as being the sum and perfection of all the other virtues. He is enamoured in a vision with the beauty of the Faery Queene, and comes to seek her in Faery Land; and this is the grand fable of the piece. But while the Faery Queene represents glory in the general intention, she is also, in the particular meaning, a type of Queen Elizabeth, whose dominion is the Faery Land. Arthur, then, wooes glory in his proper person; and the time of the fable is represented to be that of the real commencement of his history, part of which is here copied from Geoffry of Monmouth. But Q. Elizabeth, or Gloriana, is likewise identified by circumstances in her real history; and the great persons in her court are frequently alluded to in the characters of the faery or allegorical knights. On commencing the Faery Queene, it is now impossible, without consulting the author's prefatory epistle, to conceive that it is to have any other subject than the adventures of the red-cross knight; or to form any notion concerning the title of the poem, and the connection this ima→ ginary Queen is to have with its persons and events."
The works of Spenser, as announced in Dr. Aikin's prospectus, are to be followed by those of Cowley, Milton, and Butler, with all the speed compatible with the execution of the undertaking, which is extremely beautiful.
Spirit of the Public Journals for 1801. Being an Impartial Selection of the most exquisite Essays and Jeux D'Esprits, principally Prose, that appear in the Newspapers and other Publications. With Explanatory Notes. Vol. 5, to be continued Annually. London, 1802.
THE delay in the publication of this volume, the editor honestly and candidly confesses to arise from the enormous duty on paper, and the moment that fatal impost on literature ceased to exist, this very entertaining work was put to press.
The editor continues to exercise the same impartiality in respect to the selection of pieces, as distinguishes his previous selections. Indeed we think the present contains, if possible, a greater variety of wit and humour than any of the preceding volumes. The explanatory notes are of great utility, and give weight and importance to the book.