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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

§ 28. Henry Brooke’s poetry

The members of a trio also named above, if not exactly great in themselves, belong to gentes paullo majores in poetry. Joseph Trapp was not only the first professor of poetry at Oxford, and, thus, possibly, the first professor of English literature in England, as well as the author of discourses on the subject which have solid critical merit; but he was a practical craftsman, if not exactly an artist in verses, and the author of one member of a most famous pair of epigrams; concerning which it is, perhaps, not improper to remark that, as he was actually incorporated at Cambridge, mere inter-university jealousy could have nothing to do with the matter. The eccentric author of The Fool of Quality, Henry Brooke, was a poet long before he published that strange compound of genius and dulness. There were full thirty years between it and Universal Beauty—his longest and best known, though by no means his earliest or his best, work, in verse. This philosophical poem is of a kind of which More and his group had set the fashion in the seventeenth century, and which was taken up in its own modes by the eighteenth. It has only to be compared with Blackmore’s much more belauded Creation—to which, in subject, it is partly akin—in order to see the immense improvement of form which Pope, who is said to have actually bestowed on it some revision, had brought about, as well as the fine talents of the younger writer. It is more scientific than theological, though by no means atheistic or even deistic. Indeed, Brooke, in his latter days, was reputed a “methodist.” An attempt to translate Tasso, also in couplet, is but ineffectual, and a condensation of Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale sinks far below the comparative inadequacy of Dryden in such things, while it has nothing of his positive excellence. Brooke also wrote Fables, in which he exhibits a fair knack at using the easy octosyllables in whose undress the century at large took refuge from the panoply of the heroic. A very curious piece called Conrade, purporting to be an ancient Irish legend, can hardly be without obligations to Macpherson—unless, indeed, it is the other way. But Brooke has confined himself, so far as form goes, to constantly redundant heroic lines. And the songs interspersed in his play are more than fairly successful when they are light, and not always a failure when they are serious. Over all his work—verse and prose—there is, indeed, a curious atmosphere of frittered and wasted talent, sometimes approaching genius. But, in his later days, he was, at least partially, insane: and whether he had been wholly sane at any time may, perhaps, be doubted.