Edmund Spenser, the Critical Heritage

By R. M.Cummings | Go to book overview

165.

William Coward

1709

William Coward (1657?-1725) was a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. Primarily a physician, he was the author of a religious poem on the lives of the Jewish Patriarchs, now lost.

From Licentia Poetica discuss'd or the True Test of Poetry (1709), p. 77:

SPENCER, in this unfortunately Great,
New Schemes erected, old ones to defeat.
But, like Miltonian Verse, they pleas'd but few,
And Those Perhaps, because the Schemes were New.

It was fit I should name some Poem of this Nature, which is Spencer's Fairy Queen, wrote in Imitation of the Old Latin Poets, with Hexameter and Pentameter Verses, some in this present Age pretend to imitate. But the Grace of that Poem seems to consist more in the Design, than Curiosity of Rhyme or Expressions; Not but in the Times when he wrote, viz. between 1530 to 1596, (at which time he dyed) I have no Reason to doubt that it was an Approved Poem, tho' now unwarrantably imitable, without Affectation of treading in the Steps of Antiquity.

It is a common Mode of Affectation (as I may call it) when a Man sets up a New Opinion, first by Arguments to endeavour to confute the Old, as absurd, and if he cannot do it, to ridicule and expose it. All poems of Antiquity being seldom valued, as Horace says,

Si meliora Dies, ut Vina Poemata reddit,
Scire velim pretium chartis quotus arroget Annus.

[Ep. II.i. 34-5]

So that we see it is natural enough to carp at our Predecessors. But this is a Grand Mistake, when we see not just Grounds to do it, wherefore take this Rule, when a Poem has pass'd the Test of several Ages, Antiquity ought to give it a more commendable Character than be a Blemish

-312-

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