The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 12. Somerviles Chace and other Poems
Somerville himself had nothing to teach Thomson; and his Chace, when it appeared, shows the influence of the verse of The Seasons, or, at any rate, a strong inclination to come into line with it. The poet’s “hoarse-sounding horn” invited the prince of Wales, the friend of Lyttelton and the patron of Thomson,
The Chace was followed a few years later by the short poem entitled Rural Sports, also dedicated to the prince of Wales. Hobbinol, a burlesque narrative in blank verse, dedicated to Hogarth, was inspired by Philips’s Splendid Shilling, and is a lively account of the quarrelsome May games of some rustics in the vale of Evesham. In his preface, as in that to The Chace, Somerville indulged in a short critical explanation of his chosen form of verse, and defined his burlesque as “a satire against the luxury, the pride, the wantonness, and quarrelsome temper, of the middling sort of people,” which he condemned as respon sible for the decline in trade and the depressed condition of the rural districts. These poems do not add anything to the qualities displayed in The Chace, and the mock heroics of Hobbinol are unduly prolonged into three cantos. Somerville, however, was always lively in description; he knew his subject, whether he wrote of sport, or of the amusements of the Gloucestershire rustic “from Kiftsgate to remotest Henbury,” and he had a genuine feeling for classical poetry. Philips appears to have been his favourite English author, appealing to his rural tastes and to his particular vein of somewhat coarse humour. Natural description is purely incidental to his verse; but the scene and atmosphere of the various forms of sport which he described are suggested in adequate general terms. Where he approaches detail, as in his description of unfavourable weather for hunting, the resemblance of his methods to those of Thomson is noticeable. Like Thomson, he was fond, as has been noticed, of oriental and of patriotic digressions. His tendency to moralising is slight when compared with Thomson’s and from quasi-religious rhapsody he was as entirely free as he was from Thomson’s sympathy with the victims of the chase. His poems are in no sense dull reading; but his blank verse, suave and regular, is somewhat monotonous, and is seldom broken by any variation of accent, such as that frequent employment of a trochee in the first foot of a line which gives variety of movement to the verse of The Seasons.