Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 15. Their direct influence upon Modern Poetry

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

X. The Literary Influence of the Middle Ages

§ 15. Their direct influence upon Modern Poetry

It was through Percy’s Reliques that the Middle Ages really came to have an influence in modern poetry, and this was an effect far greater than that of Ossian (which was not medieval) or that of The Castle of Otranto (which was not poetical). The Reliques did not spread one monotonous sentiment like Ossian, or publish a receipt for romantic machinery. What they did may be found in The Ancient Mariner, and is acknowledged by the authors of Lyrical Ballads:

  • Contrast, in this respect, the effect of Macpherson’s publication with the Reliques of Percy, so unassuming, so modest in their pretensions!—I have already stated how much Germany is indebted to this latter work; and for our own country its poetry has been absolutely redeemed by it. I do not think that there is an able writer in verse of the present day who would not be proud to acknowledge his obligations to the Reliques; I know that it is so with my friends; and for myself I am happy on this occasion to make a public avowal of my own [Wordsworth, 1815].
  • It is strange that there should be so little of Reliques in Chatterton. What one misses in the Rowley poems is the irregular verse of the ballads; the freest measures in the Rowley poems are borrowed from Shakespeare; the ballad called the Bristowe Tragedie is in Percy’s second class, written with “a low or subordinate correctness sometimes bordering on the insipid,” e. g.,

  • I greeve to telle, before youre sonne
  • Does fromme the welkinn flye,
  • He hath upon his honour sworne,
  • That thou shalt surelie die.