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

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 38. Charles Wolfe

Two names famous in their way remain to be dealt with and the dealing may with both, as with Cary, be pleasant. Probably no “single-speech” poet has attracted more attention and has been the subject of more writing than Charles Wolfe, several times questioned but quite unquestionable author of The Burial of Sir John Moore. The thing is one of those “windfalls of the muses” for which one can only give the muses thanks. That it seems to have been originally a metrical paraphrase from Southey’s admirable prose account of the facts in The Annual Register is not in the least against it; that, not merely the at once flaming and triumphant patriotism of the time (1817) but all competent judgment since has accepted it as one of the very best things of the kind is conclusive. It has been parodied not merely in one famous instance by Barham, but again and again; it was made the subject of a most ingenious mystification by father Prout; it may be cavilled at by merely pedantic criticism as facile, sentimental, claptrap and what not. But its facility is the facility of at least temporary inspiration; its sentiment is of the sunt lacrimae rerum and of no meaner description; if it appeals for the plaudite, it is to those whose applause is worth having. It has the rush and sweep of Campbell (no less a person than Shelley thought it might be his) without Campbell’s occasional flaws. There is no doubt about it. But, when amiable persons, founding their belief on some amiable things (To Mary and so forth) which are included among Wolfe’s Remains, suggest that we lost a major poet by Wolfe’s death in consumption at the age of thirty-two, it is best to let the reply be silence.