The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 21. Concluding remarks
The poets—for, in a few cases, they most certainly deserve that name—and the verse-writers—an indefeasible title—who have been mentioned in this and in an earlier chapter do not require any peroration with much circumstance. But it would not only be uncivil to give them none; it would amount to a sort of petty treason in failing to make good their claims to the place they have here received. This place is, perhaps, justified in one case only—that of Collins—by the possession of intrinsic genius of the strictly poetical kind, in quality if not in quantity, sufficient to have made its way in any age; though, undoubtedly, in some ages, it would have been more fertile than in this. Yet Collins acquires not only interest but intelligibility when he is considered in company with those who have been associated with him here. “Why was he not as they?” “What was it that weighed on him as on them?” These are questions which those who disdain the historic estimate—who wish to “like grossly,” as Dryden put it—may disdain likewise. They add to the delight as much, at least, as they satisfy the intelligence of better exercised tastes. So, again, in various ways, Garth and Watts, Young and Dyer and Green, Shenstone and Akenside and Smart, have special attractions—sometimes, if not always strictly poetical; always, perhaps, strictly literary—in one way or another, sufficient to satisfy fit readers, if they cannot abide the same test as Collins. And so, in their turn, have even the numerus, the crowd of what some harshly call poetasters, whom we have also included. They, also, in their day and way, obeyed the irresistible seduction which urges a man to desert prose and to follow the call of poetry. They did not go far or do much; but they went as far and did as much as they could.