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

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 32. William Barnes

In order to put Barnes satisfactorily in his place, a longer discussion of dialect poetry than would here be fitting is almost necessary, and some notice, at least, of the curious philological craze, by which, following in the distant footsteps of Reginald Pecock, he would have revolutionised the English language by barring Latin compounds and abstractions, might not be superfluous. But it must suffice to say that, in his case more than in most others, acceptance or rejection (at least polite laying aside) as a whole is necessary. No single piece of Barnes, one can make bold to say, is possessed of such intrinsic poetical quality that, like the great documents of Burns, it neither requires the attractions of dialect to conciliate affection, nor is prevented from exciting disgust by the repulsion of dialect. All alike are permeated by pleasant and genuine perception of country charms; by not unpleasant and genuine sentiment of a perfectly manly kind and by other good qualities of general literature. The verse is fluent and musical enough; the diction neither too “aureate,” nor too “vulgar,” nor too much loaded with acutally dialectic words. Whether, in the absence of special poetic intensity and idiosyncrasy, the vesture of dialectic form repels or attracts, so as to procure rejection, or so as to deserve acceptance, of the “middle kind of poetry” offered, must depend to such a degree upon individual taste that it seems unnecessary to speak positively or copiously on the question.