Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 22. William Hayley; The Triumph of Temper

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

VIII. Southey

§ 22. William Hayley; The Triumph of Temper

For Darwin’s opus, however, one cannot, though it may, at first sight, seem inconsistent to say so, feel actual contempt. It is simply a huge, and, from one point of view, a ludicrous, but still a respectable, and, from another point of view, almost lamentable, mistake. The works of Hayley, the other great idol of the decadence of eighteenth century poetry, are contemptible. The Loves of the Plants is not exactly silly. The Triumph of Temper is. That puerility and anility which were presently to find, for the time, final expression in the Della Cruscan school, displayed themselves in Hayley with less extravagance, with less sentimentality and with less hopelessly bad taste than the revolutionary school were to impart, but still unmistakably. Hayley himself, as his conduct to Cowper and to Blake shows, was a man of kindly feelings; indeed, everybody seems to have liked him. He was something of a scholar, or, at the worst, a fairly well-read man. His interests were various and respectable. But, as a poet, he is impossible. Southey, in deprecating one of Coleridge’s innumerable projects—a general criticism of contemporaries (which would certainly, if we may judge from the well-known review of Maturin’s Bertram in Biographia, have been a field of garments rolled in blood)—specified Hayley as a certain, but half-innocent victim, urging that “there is nothing bad about the man except his poetry.” Unfortunately, on the present occasion, nothing about the man concerns us except his poetry; and the badness, or, at least, the nullity, of that it is impossible to exaggerate. A fair line may be found here and there; a fair stanza or passage hardly ever; a good, or even a fair poem, never.