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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VI. Lesser Verse Writers

§ 22. Younger Contemporaries of Dryden: George Granville (Lord Lansdowne); William Walsh

We must, of course, begin with the group which, as has been said—though all its members lived into Pope’s time, and two of them were specially singled out by him as patrons, and, in a way, patterns—represent, in actual historic relation, the younger contemporaries of Dryden. First come the pair just referred to, and known now chiefly, if not wholly, by Pope’s own words, “Granville the polite [George Granville, first baron Lansdowne] and knowing Walsh [William Walsh].” With them may be grouped four others less known to even second-hand fame: Richard Duke, George Stepney, William King (1663–1712) and Thomas Yalden, who linger, mummy fashion, in the collections of British poets, while two of them enjoy certain adventitious aids to personal remembrance. For Stepney, a notable diplomatist in his day, represented Marlborough in the taking-over of the principality of Mindelheim, and King is constantly confused with his twenty years younger namesake (1685–1763), the clever but venomous jacobite principal of St. Mary hall.

Granville, Lord Lansdowne, does not quite deserve, even from a literary point of view, the neglect which has betaken him, and, to all who can appreciate the genealogy of poetry—a thing which has attractions far other than those affecting Dryasdust—is by no means negligible. In him, we have, perhaps, the last remnant, though only an imperfect one, of Caroline character, before we come to the wholly, or almost wholly, “Augustan” lyric. That strange fire which still burns, and occasionally even blazes, in Sedley and Rochester and Aphra Behn, only glimmers in him; but it has not quite gone out. It was, possibly, the presence of it, joined, as an acute reader aware of the circumstances may suspect, to the disapprobation, which he not obscurely hints, of the later character of “Myra,” which makes Johnson unjust to Lansdowne. This grandson of Sir Bevil Granville, a descendant of the hero of the Azores, could not, so far as he was personally concerned, have been distasteful to the censor. He “endeavoured to be true at once to the King [James II] and the Church,” which exceedingly difficult task Johnson would himself certainly have essayed. He was the author of a sentence which has frequently expressed the wishes of good Englishmen before and since, “Everybody wishes well to the King: but they would be glad if his ministers were hanged.” He abstained from public life during the whole reign of William, but was an active tory member of parliament under Anne, became one of the two famous “panel” of peers, and was sent to the Tower by the Hanoverian government; though afterwards, like others, he was, in a way, reconciled by the good manners and good judgment of queen Caroline. But Johnson thought him “profane,” which, perhaps, he was sometimes, and decided that his verses to “Myra” were “commonly feeble and unaffecting or forced and extravagant,” while his other little pieces were “seldom either sprightly or elegant, either keen or weighty.” They were “trifles written in idleness and published by vanity.” These are neat antitheses; but, if any one will look dispassionately at the song “Love is by Fancy led about” or at “Thoughtful nights and restless waking,” he will, with due historic allowance, hardly think the judgment just in the present case. Granville came at an unfortunate time in the history of the evolution of poetic species. His wings had dwindled, and he could not quite fly; nor was he content merely to walk gracefully. But his lyre has not forgotten that, in Joubert’s famous phrase, it ought to be a “winged instrument.”

Walsh was somewhat luckier: for his inheritance of the older time was in the ligher vein, and, perhaps, the critical power attributed to him, both by Dryden and by Pope, told him what not to attempt, and not to attempt too much. His work in verse (to which Johnson is somewhat kinder than he is to Lansdowne’s) is very small, but there are several pieces in it which are not anybody’s work. His couplets are distinctly good; except Garth’s, they are, perhaps, the best between Dryden and Pope. The poem entitled Jealousy, in a rather elaborate stanza not ineffectively composed of a decasyllabic quatrain, an octosyllabic couplet and two “fourteeners,” is far from contemptible. “Caelia, too late you would repent,” in Caroline common measure, has kept much of the soar and swoop of that extraordinary example of anything “common”; and, what is perhaps his best known and most praised thing, The Despairing Lover, deserves all the praise and much wider knowledge. The quaintness of its expression and of its metre—a sort of regularised Skeltonic—is as crisp as it is quaint. And when it is remembered that The Antidote, which begins

  • When I see the bright nymph who my heart does enthrall,
  • was probably written as early as anything by Prior, and, perhaps, earlier still, it is difficult to be chary of applause. Walsh, a country squire, a county member and, for a time, a placeman at court—a man, too, who died in no very advanced middle age—can only have written for his amusement; but he might have amused himself very much worse.