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Early Reviews of English Poets by John Louis Haney

EARLY REVIEWS

OF

ENGLISH POETS

EDITED WITH AN INTRODUCTION

BY

JOHN LOUIS HANEY, PH.D.

_Assistant Professor of English and History, Central High School, Philadelphia; Research Fellow in English, University of Pennsylvania_

PHILADELPHIA THE EGERTON PRESS 1904

COPYRIGHT, 1904 BY JOHN LOUIS HANEY

PRESS OF THE NEW ERA PRINTING COMPANY, LANCASTER, PA.

TO

MY FRIEND AND TEACHER

PROFESSOR FELIX E. SCHELLING

OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

PREFACE

"Among the amusing and instructive books that remain to be written, one of the most piquant would be a history of the criticism with which the most celebrated literary productions have been greeted on their first appearance before the world." It is quite possible that when Dr. William Matthews began his essay on _Curiosities of Criticism_ with these words, he failed to grasp the full significance of that future undertaking. Mr. Churton Collins recently declared that "a very amusing and edifying record might be compiled partly out of a selection of the various verdicts passed contemporaneously by reviews on particular works, and partly out of comparisons of the subsequent fortunes of works with their fortunes while submitted to this censorship." Both critics recognize the fact that such a volume would be entertaining and instructive; but, from another point of view, it would also be a somewhat doleful book. Even a reader of meagre imagination and rude sensibilities could not peruse such a volume without picturing in his mind the anguish and the heart-ache which those bitter and often vicious attacks inflicted upon the unfortunate victims whose works were being assailed.

Authors (particularly sensitive poets) have been at all times the sport and plaything of the critics. Mrs. Oliphant, in her _Literary History of England_, said with much truth: "There are few things so amusing as to read a really 'slashing article'--except perhaps to write it. It is infinitely easier and gayer work than a well-weighed and serious criticism, and will always be more popular. The lively and brilliant examples of the art which dwell in the mind of the reader are invariably of this class." Thus it happens that we remember the witty onslaughts of the reviewers, and often ignore the fact that certain witticisms drove Byron, for example, into a frenzy of anger that called forth the most vigorous satire of the century; and others so completely unnerved Shelley that he felt tempted to write no more; and still others were so unanimously hostile in tone that Coleridge thought the whole detested tribe of critics was in league against his literary success. There were, of course, such admirable personalities as Wordsworth's--for the most part indifferent to the strongest torrent of abuse; and clever craftsmen like Tennyson, who, although hurt, read the criticisms and profited by them; but, on the other hand, there are still well-informed readers who believe that the _Quarterly Review_ at least hastened the death of poor Keats.


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