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

VIII. Southey

§ 5. Ballads

But the most important productions of this time, if not the best, were the Ballads. Most of the best of these were written between 1796 and 1798; and, although none of them possesses anything like the poetical power of The Ancient Mariner, it is nearly certain that Southey preceded Coleridge in his appreciation and practice of the ballad principle of anapaestic equivalence in mainly iambic measures, though he may have followed others, from Anstey down to Lewis, in adopting the pure anapaest. From another point of view, he deserves the credit of blending the spirit of the then popular terror-novel with touches of humour, so as to produce the effect for which there is, perhaps, no single word except the French macabre. This, which was afterwards pushed still further by Hood, Praed and Barham, has provided English with a sort of hybrid style, capable of easy degeneration in various ways, but, at its best, almost peculiar and quite delectable. Southey himself was sometimes content with the mere singsong of the eighteenth century ballad, and sometimes overstepped the treacherous line which keeps ghastly humour from bad taste. But, in divers instances, such as The Cross Roads, Bishop Hatto and the famous Old Woman of Berkeley, he has hit the white; while, in less mixed modes, The Well of St. Keyne, The Inchcape Rock, the almost famous Battle of Blenheim and, perhaps, Queen Orraca should be added to his tale of complete successes. From the point of view of form, they had a most powerful influence in loosening the bonds of eighteenth century metre; and, from that of combined form and matter, they exercised the same influence more widely. It ought never to be forgotten, though it too often is, that Southey was particularly influential in the days when better poets of his own age were still forming themselves and when other better poets, younger as well as better, had not produced anything.