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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

§ 32. Other Lesser Verse Writers of the Age

Two writers who, in the busy part of their lives, were nearly contemporary, who belong, one by attraction and the other by repulsion, to the circle of Pope, were active practitioners of verse as translators and otherwise, but, perhaps, derive their chief importance from connection with the criticism of poetry rather than with its production. Leonard Welsted, a Westminster and Cambridge man, wrote a good deal of verse and, indeed, hardly deserved, though he had provoked it, his place in the inferno of The Dunciad, even as a versifier. But his translation of Longinus does not show any mark of dulness, while the original remarks connected with it show that, if he could not exactly produce poetry, he could appreciate it in Spenser and Shakespeare to a degree not common in his day. Christopher Pitt, who was of Winchester and Oxford, and who could be intimate with Dodington and yet not lose some favour with Pope, throws a longer and larger shadow in this skiagraphy. His translation of Vergil, in a measure, ousted Dryden’s in the favour of the eighteenth century; though, to the possibly more impartial judgment of a posterity almost equally remote from either, it has not much, if anything, more of Vergil and a good deal less of poetry. His miscellaneous poems—which include many minor translations, one of the absolutely un-Spenserian imitations of the time, addresses to Young, Spence, Dodington and others, and some trifles—require no comment. But his other chief translation, earlier in date than The Æneid, that of Vida’s Art of Poetry, is one of those things which, whatever their comparative merit and value as to kind, have a very high position in the kind to which they belong. Vida himself is open to plentiful censure. But, earlier than anyone else and in Latin verse of remarkable ease and finish, he had put the very theory of poetry which was held for much more than two centuries after his death in almost every country of Europe. And Pitt, holding that view still, and helped in testifying to it by the methodic achievements of Dryden and Pope, besides being possessed, too, of adequate scholarship and a competent faculty of verse, produced that rarest of things—a verse translation which really represents the original. For once, the translator is no traitor: the substance and the manner of his author are reproduced with extraordinary felicity. No real student of the history and criticism of poetry should fail to read Vida: and if (most unfortunately) he cannot read him in his own words and lines, he will lose very little of him in those of Pitt.

The imitation of Spenser which has just been glanced at, and which, despite some recent attempts to contest the fact, was certainly a very important feature in the history of eighteenth century poetry, is, perhaps, not the only thing that need keep alive the memory of Gilbert West (to be distinguished from Richard West, the friend of Gray). He would otherwise be “only an excellent person,” as, indeed, he seems also to have been. In his translations from Pindar and others, it is impossible to take any interest, and his occasional poems are very few and very slight. But his Spenserian pastiches, The Abuse of Travelling and Education, are not mere sketches or mere parodies, and deserve a little study. Johnson who, more than once, protested against the practice of which West seems to have furnished some of the earliest examples, yet allowed them to be successful as regards “the metre, the language and the fiction”; but a single line, taken at random,

  • And all the arts that cultivate the mind
  • will, perhaps, induce readers to doubt the critic’s praise as much as his blame. West, it is true, is not always so utterly un-Spenserian as this; but his choice of subjects is, in itself, fatal, and his intention is generally defeated by his execution itself.

    The verses of James Bramston, some of which are to be found in Dodsley, are fair specimens of the easiest eighteenth century “verse of society”; but the honour of bringing up the rear in this procession of individuals must be reserved for one who, mere hack of letters as he was, and little as is positively known about him, accumulates an unusual assemblage of interesting details round his personality and his work. Reputed son of the great marquis of Halifax, ancestor, it seems, of Edmund Kean; creator, in the farce-burlesque of Chrononhotonthologos, of many quaint names and some actual lines of verse which have stuck in literary memory; inventor of Ambrose Philips’s nickname, and of a rare set of skittish verses attached to it; musician, playwright and (it would seem, almost as much in gaiety of heart as on any other occasion in his life) suicide—Henry Carey will live for ever, if not in any of the above capacities, as author of the delightful words, and the almost more delightful music, of Sally in Our Alley.