The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 4. His other Writings: The Complaint
It ought to be set down to the credit of public taste, which seldom receives, and does not often deserve, praise, that these defects (except the verbiage) are somewhat less perceptible in what was long held to be a masterpiece, and is Young’s masterpiece still. Even the annoying and defacing redundant syllable may be excused, to some extent, on the plea that The Complaint, to all intents and purposes, is an enormous soliloquy—a lamentation in argumentative and reflective monologue, addressed by an actor of superhuman lung-power to an audience of still more superhuman endurance. It has, throughout, the character of the epideictic—the rhetorical exercise deliberately calculated and consciously accepted as a matter of display—which is frequent in more serious eighteenth century verse. What Shakespeare, in a few lines of Hamlet and of Macbeth, compressed and sublimed into immortal poetry, Young watered down or hammered out into rhetoric, with endless comments and “uses” and applications. But, in passages which are still unforgotten, he allows himself a little concentration and something that is strangely like, if it is not actually, sincerity; and, then, he does become, in his day and in his place, “a man of genius and a poet.” Indeed, if he were judged by single lines, both of the satiric and of the reflective kind, these titles could still less be refused him. And it is only fair to say that such lines and passages occur not merely in Night Thoughts, not merely in The Universal Passion, but almost everywhere (except in the odes), from the early Last Day and Job to the final Resignation.