Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 14. Charles Jeremiah Wells; Joseph and his Brethren

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 14. Charles Jeremiah Wells; Joseph and his Brethren

The remaining members of this group, though sometimes interesting both as persons and as poets, must be treated more briefly, for they are rather “curiosities of literature” than great men of letters. More especially does this position belong to Wells. In a long life (very little disturbed, it would seem, either by the legal or the professorial business which, at times, he attempted), he produced nothing but a few prose stories and tales, and the remarkable closet-drama Joseph and his Brethren, originally published, 1823–4, under a pseudonym. We are told that three versions of Beddoes’s chief play exist in manuscript: and it appears not impossible that three different versions of Wells’s will some day exist in print. For he very considerably altered the original in the reprint which, fifty years later, was brought about by the enthusiasm of the poet Swinburne, and he is said to have altered that reprint itself still more with manuscript corrections and additions not yet made public. The drama, undoubtedly, is a remarkable production; but it is probable that the very high praise bestowed on it has been the cause of a good deal of disappointment even to readers who were quite prepared to admire. The character of Phraxanor (Potiphar’s wife) has a certain force and even original touches poetically expressed; but the enormous verbiage of her speeches drowns the spirit of these. Wells is said to have burnt several volumes of manuscript poetry and prose; and, although some fine things might have been found in them, it is difficult to be very sorry. for, at first, in all cases, he admittedly wrote with ostentatious contempt of the most ordinary care; and, if the current version of Joseph and his Brethren is a fair specimen of his attempts at revision, care would probably have done very little good.