The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 7. How Sleep the Brave and The Ode to Evening
When this is thoroughly understood, it not merely brings the usual reward—the fact of this understanding—but a distinct increase of enjoyment. On the full perception of the difference between the two Collinses, there follows, not merely pardon, as in the proverb, but a possibility of neglecting what would otherwise annoy. The “British shell” no longer suggests artillery or oysters; the “turtles” have no savour of the tureen; and nothing interferes with our appreciation of the dewy eyes of Pity and the golden hair of Peace, when the sense of incongruity is, as Coleridge says of the sense of disbelief, “suspended.”
In regard, indeed, to the Eclogues, the critical is almost the only satisfaction. They occupy but little room—less than a score of pages, containing scarcely more than three hundred lines, form not a very severe tax upon the reader. But, in them, we certainly find the Collins of the hour almost unrelieved by a single exhibition of individual poetic quality. Eastern apologues in prose or verse had been patented for the whole eighteenth century by the authority of Addison; and Collins was merely following one of the various fashions beyond which it was reckoned improper, if not positively unlawful, to stray. The consecrated couplet furnishes the metre; the gradus epithet—“radiant morn,” “wanton gales,” “tender passion” —lends its accustomed aid to swell and balance the line; and, though we sometimes come on a verse that shows forth the poet, such as