Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 10. Blair’s Grave

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

VII. Young, Collins and Lesser Poets of the Age of Johnson

§ 10. Blair’s Grave

Chronology could hardly have been more complacent in contrast-planning than by putting the author of The Grave next in order. Here, also, we have a poet of one poem; but the subject of that poem has at once greater possibilities and greater dangers. A poet who writes unpoetically on death at once proves himself to be no poet; and Blair has not failed to pass the test. But he has passed it with the qualification of his time; and, perhaps, so universal a subject ought to receive rather more universality of treatment. Even the fine coda (which did not form part of the original edition of the poem) dates itself a little too definitely; and the suicide passage, to name no other, is somewhat rhetorical, if not even melodramatic. But there is no doubt that it had a powerful influence. The very fact that contemporary critics thought the language lacking in “dignity” offers the best testimony to its freedom, at least sometimes, from the always irksome, and sometimes intolerable, buckram which mars Young and Thomson, Armstrong and Akenside, and which is by no means absent from Collins or from Gray. The blank verse, like nearly all dating from this period, though not so badly as some of it, abuses the abrupt full-stopped middle pause, and is too much given to dramatic redundancy. But it has a certain almost rugged massiveness, and occasionally flings itself down with real momentum. The line

  • The great negotiators of the earth
  • possesses sarcastic force of meaning as well as prosodic force of structure. It would be hard to find two poets of more different schools than Blair and Blake. Yet it was not a mere association of contradictories when Blake illustrated Blair.