Carolyn D Williams

Eighteenth-century poets are sometimes seen as separate from the traditions that link Renaissance and Romantic poetry, too obsessed with the classical traditions of ancient Greece and Rome to value their more recent predecessors. Yet evidence from their perceptions of literary history, their attitudes to the past in general, their editing practices, and their critical and creative responses to earlier literature reveals a more complex and exciting picture.

In fact, eighteenth-century English poetry begins with Geoffrey Chaucer (1340/41400): the most distinguished publication of 1700 was Fables Ancient and Modern; Translated into Verse, from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, and Chaucer: with Original Poems by John Dryden (1631—1700), opening with an adaptation of "Palamon and Arcite," a chivalric epic from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Dryden acknowledges that he and his contemporaries have poetic roots in native genealogies: "Spencer more than once insinuates, that the Soul of Chaucer was transfus'd into his Body; and that he was begotten by him Two hundred years after his Decease. Milton has acknowledg'd to me, that Spencer was his Original" ("Preface" to Fables, in Dryden 1956—2002: vol. 7, 25).

A landscape familiar in later histories of English literature emerges, with the middle distance dominated by two Renaissance epics, The Faerie Queene (1590—6) by Edmund Spenser, and Paradise Lost (1667) by John Milton, while Chaucer's more remote position is becoming established. The loftiest eminence was already in place: Dryden had paid homage to William Shakespeare in his "Prologue to the Tempest, or the Enchanted Island" (1670), announcing that "Shakespear s pow'r is sacred as a King's" (Dryden 1956-2002; vol. 10, p. 6, l. 24).

A similar pattern, though with a more Celtic emphasis, appears at the midcentury in Thomas Gray's "The Bard. A Pindaric Ode" (1757). The Middle Ages here are represented by a picturesquely disheveled Welsh bard, persecuted by Edward I (1239-1307):

Robed in the sable garb of woe, With haggard eyes the Poet stood;

(Loose his beard, and hoary hair Stream'd, like a meteor, to the troubled air) And with a Master's hand, and Prophet's fire, Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre.

He invokes the ghosts of his slain colleagues to join him in a " 'dreadful harmony' " (l. 47) which not only foretells but magically brings about the series of deaths and disasters that will dog Edward's line until the throne returns to " 'genuine Kings, Britannia's Issue' " (l. 110) at the accession of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, in 1485. The Bard takes an appropriately professional interest in the revival of poetry that will accompany this happy event. Gray feels no need to name Spenser, Shakespeare, or Milton, confident that his readers will recognize them in the following lines:

"The verse adorn again

"Fierce War, and faithful Love,

"And Truth severe, by fairy Fiction drest.

"In buskin'd measures move

"Pale Grief, and pleasing Pain,

"With Horrour, Tyrant of the throbbing breast.

"A Voice, as of the Cherub-Choir,

"Gales from blooming Eden bear;"

Allegiance to a native British tradition gathers strength as the century progresses, but is always a force to be reckoned with in the study of eighteenth-century poetry. Nevertheless, the past was not the object of uncritical veneration: eighteenth-century people saw as moldering and outdated much that we would find impressively antique. This attitude sometimes receives poetic expression: inspired by her experiences as a kitchen-maid in the medieval Edgcote House, Mary Leapor (1722-46) composed a poem about "Crumble-Hall" (1751),

Whose Gothic Towers, and whose rusty Spires, Were known of old to Knights, and hungry Squires. There powder'd Beef, and Warden-Pies, were found; And Pudden dwelt within her spacious Bound.

At best, its venerable glamor fades into coarse, if wholesome, simplicity. At worst, it harbors dirt and inconvenience:

Safely the Mice through yon dark Passage run, Where the dim Windows ne'er admit the Sun.

Along each Wall the Stranger blindly feels;

And (trembling) dreads a Spectre at his Heels.

Between 1747 and 1752 the owner pulled it down and built a new house on the site; Leapor's poem makes it easy to see why. [See ch. 16, "Mary Leapor, 'Crumble-Hall.' "]

Dryden's adaptations of Chaucer can be interpreted as an attempt to restore a medieval cultural artifact and bring it into modern use. His Fables is the first volume to present Chaucer in roman type (white letter) instead of the old-fashioned gothic (black letter), thus making his text easier to read and setting it on equal terms with more recent literature. Readers who today regard Chaucer as a sophisticated versifier and a master of irony might find Dryden's "Preface" excessively patronizing; his Chaucer is "a rough Diamond" (Dryden 1956-2002: vol. 7, 39), whose verse is "not Harmonious to us" (p. 34) and whose obscenities call for strict censorship: "I have confin'd my Choice to such Tales of Chaucer, as savour nothing of Immodesty" (p. 38). Dryden declares that "some People are offended that I have turn'd these Tales into modern English," not because such an enterprise is unnecessary, but because they "look on Chaucer as a dry, old-fashion'd Wit" (p. 39). Yet he boldly dubs Chaucer "the Father of English Poetry" (p. 33), whose Canterbury Tales form a lasting monument, since their narrators encompass "the various Manners and Humours (as we now call them) of the whole English Nation" (p. 37). Unfortunately, the fact that Dryden has found it necessary to provide a modern English version suggests that the original edifice, like Edgcote House, has already started to crumble.

Even though Renaissance English texts did not need translation, scholars strove energetically to provide the public with accurate editions that took proper account of linguistic and cultural differences. Anyone requiring detailed information about eighteenth-century contributions to their knowledge of Spenser and Shakespeare should consult the variorum editions of their works. It might seem surprising that so much explanation should be provided for readers in this period, many of whom had been born within a century of Shakespeare's death. Richard Steele (1672-1729), editor of the popular periodical The Tatler, designed for middle-class readers of moderate education, devotes a number to Faerie Queene, Book X, Canto IV, "in which Sir Scudamore relates the Progress of his Courtship to Amoret under a very beautiful Allegory" (no. 194, July 6, 1710, in Steele 1987: vol. 3, 45). He appears to assume that any reader who has been told the story will be able to derive moral instruction from the work, despite the strangeness of the language. Steele describes Amoret seated in the lap of Womanhood, who is accompanied by personifications of specifically female virtues, including "Modesty, holding her Hand on her Heart; Courtesy, with a graceful Aspect, and obliging Behaviour; and the Two Sisters, who were always linked together, and resembled each other, Silence and Obedience" (p. 48).

Steele declares that he is most pleased with this "beautiful Grouppe of Figures," observing that "Womanhood is drawn like what the Philosophers call an Universal

Nature, and is attended with beautiful Representatives of all those Virtues that are the Ornaments of the Female Sex, considered in its natural Perfection and Innocence" (p. 49). Modern readers who object to this critique will do so because Steele, who so uncritically encourages his female readers to emulate Amoret's meekness and his male readers to see her as the ideal woman, still inhabits Spenser's world.

Most readers, however, were grateful for any help the editors of Spenser could provide. In 1715, John Hughes (1677-1720) published his edition of Spenser: "the first use of the historical method in Spenserian criticism, and as such, a natural consequence of the scientific spirit of the late seventeenth century" (Wurtsbaugh 1936: 41). Thomas Warton (1728-90), whose "real lust" was "uncovering old books and manuscripts" (Wurtsbaugh 1936: 123), considered it his chief aim "to give a clear and comprehensive estimate of the characteristical merits and manner, of this admired, but neglected, poet. For this purpose I have considered the customs and genius of his age; I have searched his cotemporary [sic] writers, and examined the books on which the peculiarities of his style, taste, and composition, are confessedly founded" (Warton 1762: vol. 2, 263-4).

Warton's interest in Renaissance culture for its own sake was shared by John Upton (1707-60), whose edition of The Faerie Queene (1758) was frequently reprinted. In 1802, Spenser's Poetical Works were added to the new edition of Johnson's British Poets. According to the editor, John Aikin, it was now impossible for "the student of English verse" who had any "regard to his reputation" to remain "unacquainted with the works of one who fills such a space in the history of his art" (Spenser 1802: vol. 1, iii). The word "student" indicates a crucial change of attitude: paradoxically, the new generation of readers may understand his work better, precisely because they are conscious of living in different times.

Shakespeare's eighteenth-century reputation started from a higher point than Spenser's, but achieved an even more spectacular trajectory, as Bate shows in his account of "the rise of Bardolatry in the eighteenth century" (Bate 1997: 82). His poems, which seldom appeared in editions of his works, received little attention: the sonnets, in particular, full of elaborate conceits expressing obsessive lust and homoerotic passion, aroused a distaste that is "manifestly moral as well as aesthetic" (p. 40). The plays, however, were often discussed, and even edited, in a manner which highlighted their qualities as reading matter and erased their connection with the theater. In a breathtaking combination of social snobbery and anti-theatrical prejudice, Alexander Pope opposes dramatic to poetic values in the preface to his 1725 edition: "Players are just such judges of what is right, as Taylors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our Author's faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a Poet, than to his right judgment as a Player" (Smith 1903: 51). Arguably the most influential critical work of the century is the "Preface to Shakespeare" (1765) by Samuel Johnson: he presents the plays to his readers less as a series of dramatic opportunities than as a fund of "practical axioms and domestick wisdom" ( Johnson 1958-90: vol. 7, 62).

From eighteenth-century debates over the proper way to establish Shakespeare's text arose ideas about critical and editorial practice that remain fundamentally important to this day. To those such as Alexander Pope, Sir Thomas Hanmer (1677—1746; a baronet and former Speaker of the House of Commons), and the distinguished clergyman William Warburton (1688—1779), editing was chiefly "a matter of taste" (Smith 1928: 45). The same could be said of Nicholas Rowe (1674-1781), the most celebrated dramatist to edit Shakespeare in the century, whose 1709 edition was the first to bear the editor's name. An example of the result this "taste" might produce is an emendation of a passage at the beginning of Twelfth Night. Orsino demands to hear a strain of music again: according to the 1623 Folio text, he says,

O, it came ore my eare, like the sweet sound

That breathes vpon a banke of Violets;

Stealing, and giuing Odour.

Pope's alteration of "sound" to "South" has now become a popular reading, though the footnote indicates that there was always an undercurrent of controversy: George Steevens (1756-1800) in his 1785 edition argued extensively for Pope's emendation, while Rowe and others preferred "wind" (Shakespeare 1901: 9).

Lewis Theobald (1688-1744) adopted a different approach, which today would be defined as more professional: David Nichol Smith acknowledges his importance as "the first of our Shakespearian scholars," who "recognized that the time had come for an English classic to be treated like the classics of Greece and Rome" (Smith 1928: 41). He argued that readers who wished to understand Shakespeare should study the books he read, and the works of his contemporaries. Marcus Walsh notes the magnitude of his achievement, working under severe disadvantages: "No adequate historical dictionary was available to eighteenth-century editors before Johnson's Dictionary, a work heavily drawn on by Johnson himself in his work on Shakespeare. Theobald had to rely on much less satisfactory lexicographical resources, and on his own wide knowledge, and detailed recall, of writing of Shakespeare's time" (Walsh 1997: 147).

Pope was outraged by Theobald's proceedings. Their views of the past were incompatible: Theobald's treasured sources appeared to Pope as deservedly neglected rubbish, lacking the erudition and elegance of his own day. Still, he might have let Theobald alone had the latter refrained from publishing Shakespeare Restored: or, a Specimen of the Many Errors, as well Committed, as Unamended, by Mr. Pope (1726). Pope's attempted vengeance recoiled on himself. In his satire on false learning, The Dunciad (1728), he makes Theobald pray to his patron deity, the goddess of Dulness: "For thee I dim these eyes, and stuff this head, / With all such reading as was never read" (Pope 1939-69: vol. 5, I. 165-6). Thomas Warton vindicated Theobald, maintaining that, for the author of a critical commentary on "our elder poets," to give "specimens of his classical erudition" is not enough: "these strange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which Shakespeare himself had studied; the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain so many difficult allusions and obsolete customs in his poet, which otherwise could never have been understood" (Warton 1762: vol. 2, 264-5). Succeeding scholars, who applied Theobald's principles with increasing thoroughness, included Edward Capell (1713-81), the first to transcribe every word rather than annotate an earlier edition, and Edmond Malone (1741-1812), whose 1790 edition retained its authority until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Closely linked to perceptions of what texts are worth reading, and how they should be edited, are ideas about literature's aesthetic value. Topics prominent on the eighteenth-century critical agenda appear in The Spectator, edited by Joseph Addison (1672-1719) with Richard Steele. Three matters of particular relevance to the current investigation are the superiority of elegant simplicity to self-advertising artifice, the demands of poetic decorum, and the changing meaning of "Gothick." These criteria may simply be applied to the text under discussion, or redefined, or dismissed as inappropriate, but they are seldom ignored. In each case the relationship between the present and the past, which may include classical as well as more recent literature, comes into play.

Addison aimed to improve his readers' taste by inculcating admiration for "that natural Way of writing, that beautiful Simplicity, which we so much admire in the Compositions of the Ancients" (Spectator, no. 62, May 11, 1711, in Addison 1965: vol. 1, 268). He observes that "As true Wit consists in the Resemblance of Ideas, and false Wit in the Resemblance of Words, . . . there is another kind of Wit which consists partly in the Resemblance of Ideas, and partly in the Resemblance of Words; which for Distinction Sake I shall call mixt Wit" (p. 265). He found a great deal of mixed wit in Abraham Cowley (1618-67), and abundant false wit in other seventeenth-century poets. Johnson discusses them in his "Life of Cowley" (1779), giving them a name that is still used today: "About the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets" (Johnson 1905: vol. 1, 18-19). He appears exasperated by their misplaced ingenuity: "Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader, far from wondering that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found. . . . The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together" (p. 20).

Many readers today might feel that Johnson shows deplorable disrespect toward such well-loved poets as George Herbert (1593-1633) and John Donne (1572-1631), whose "Valediction, Forbidding Mourning," now a popular anthology piece, is dismissed with the observation that "it may be doubted whether absurdity or ingenuity has the better claim" ( Johnson 1905: vol. 1, 34). Yet he has brought them to the notice of a wider public, and he concedes that they had some merit: "To write on their plan it was at least necessary to read and think" (p. 21). Furthermore, most of the passages he cites as examples of bad writing are, indeed, dire. Johnson and Addison also deserve credit for fearless impartiality: they apply identical criteria to the most prestigious of all seventeenth-century writers. Johnson remarked that, to Shakespeare, a pun was "the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it" (Johnson 1958—90: vol. 7, 74). Addison had previously observed that "the Age in which the Punn chiefly flourished, was the Reign of King James the First. . . . [T]he Tragedies of Shakespear, are full of them. . . . [N]othing is more usual than to see a Hero weeping and quibbling for a dozen Lines together" (Spectator, no. 61, May 10, 1711, in Addison 1965: vol. 1, 260). Shakespeare is thus contextualized as a child of his time.

The rules of decorum require that the style be appropriate to the form and subject: to modern readers, its demands often appear pointless and sterile, spawned by the contamination of aesthetic standards with outmoded social distinctions. Eighteenth-century critics began to realize that breaches of decorum were caused not only by failure to maintain class boundaries, but by cultural changes brought about by the passage of time. Addison's treatment of ballads leads to a spectacular failure of nerve. In The Spectator, no. 70 (May 21, 1711), he gives a critique of the popular ballad "Chevy Chase" on the grounds that "an ordinary Song or Ballad that is the Delight of the common People, cannot fail to please all such Readers as are not unqualified for the Entertainment by their Affectation or Ignorance" (Addison 1965: vol. 1, 297).

He shows that, in its account of courageous conduct by groups of warring medieval barons, "Chevy Chase" shares many characteristics with a classical epic poem such as Virgil's Aeneid. The work conforms to the purpose of "an heroick Poem," which "should be founded upon some important Precept of Morality, adapted to the Constitution of the Country in which the Poet writes" (Addison 1965: vol. 1, 299). Both here and in a later paper he provides parallel quotations from ballad and epic to show how much is written "in the Spirit of Virgil" (Spectator, no. 74, May 25, 1711, p. 318). But when it comes to "the old Ballad of the Two Children in the Wood, which is one of the Darling Songs of the Common People, and has been the Delight of most Englishmen in some Part of their Age," he grows embarrassed, declaring "My Reader will think I am not serious." Nobody, according to Addison, could accuse it of being affected, and he bears testimony to its emotional power: it is a plain simple Copy of Nature, destitute of all the Helps and Ornaments of Art. . . . There is even a despicable Simplicity in the Verse; and yet, because the Sentiments appear genuine and unaffected, they are able to move the Mind of the most polite Reader with inward Meltings of Humanity and Compassion. (no. 85, June 7, 1711, p. 362)

Yet he cannot bring himself to quote one word. Presumably its childhood associations, bourgeois setting, and lack of armed combat conspire to make it "low."

Excessive domesticity can trigger a similar reaction, as in Johnson's remarks on Macbeth, I. v:

Words which convey ideas of dignity in one age, are banished from elegant writing or conversation in another, because they are in time debased by vulgar mouths, and can be no longer heard without the involuntary recollection of unpleasing images.

When Mackbeth is confirming himself in the horrid purpose of stabbing his king, he breaks out amidst his emotions into a wish natural to a murderer,

-Come, thick night!

And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes; Nor heav'n peep through the blanket of the dark,

(The Rambler, no. 168, October 26, 1751, in Johnson 1958-90: vol. 5, 127)

He claims that, although "all the force of poetry" is exerted in this passage, "perhaps scarce any man now peruses it without some disturbance of his attention from the counteraction of the words to the ideas." One problem arises because "the efficacy of this invocation is destroyed by the insertion of an epithet now seldom heard but in the stable, and dun night may come or go without any other notice than contempt" (p. 127).

The failure to use properties and language suitable to Augustan tragedy, whose characteristic weapon is the dagger, adds a further distraction: "we do not immediately conceive that any crime of importance is to be committed with a knife; or who does not, at last, from the long habit of connecting a knife with sordid offices, feel aversion rather than terror?" (Johnson 1958-90: vol. 5, 128). Finally, "who, without some relaxation of his gravity, can hear of the avengers of guilt 'peeping through a blanket'?" (Johnson 1958-90: vol. 5, 128).

We should not be too quick to accuse Johnson of undervaluing Shakespeare's unfettered sublimity. It is actually Lady Macbeth who is speaking here: her unimaginatively materialistic world picture is brilliantly reflected in Shakespeare's imagery. It is unlikely that Shakespeare wished to provoke laughter, but a certain degree of shock would be appropriate; Johnson, closer in time and culture, reacts with excessive sensitivity to a feature which later audiences miss completely.

Addison strikes another important note when he condemns as gothic the over-ingenious poetry that is more concerned with words than with meaning. His reference to monastic costume in "the Region of false Wit" associates the gothic with the Middle Ages:

I discover'd in the Center of a very dark Grove a Monstrous Fabrick built after the Gothick manner, and covered with innumerable Devices in that barbarous kind of Sculpture. I immediately went up to it, and found it to be a kind of Heathen Temple consecrated to the God of Dullness. Upon my Entrance I saw the Deity of the Place dressed in the Habit of a Monk, with a Book in one Hand and a Rattle in the other. (Spectator, no. 63, May 12, 1711, in Addison 1965: vol. 1, 271)

Yet he locates false wit across the historical spectrum, classifying as "Gothick" both "an Epigram of Martial" (c.40-c. 104) and "a Poem of Cowley" (Spectator, no. 70, May 21, 1711, in Addison 1965: vol. 1, 297). Nor are Addison's contemporaries exempt:

he laments that "the Taste of most of our English Poets, as well as Readers, is extremely Gothick" (no. 62, May 11, 1711, vol. 1, 269). A reaction began to develop, in which the gothic acquired dignity and glamor, and the idea that the term should automatically be regarded as a condemnation was rejected. For example, Hughes, in his Essay on Allegorical Poetry (1715), argues that comparing The Faerie Queene with the epics of Homer and Virgil wou'd be like drawing a Parallel between the Roman and the Gothick Architecture. In the first there is doubtless a more natural Grandeur and Simplicity: in the latter, we find great Mixtures of Beauty and Barbarism, yet assisted by the Invention of a Variety of inferior Ornaments; and tho the former is more majestick in the whole, the latter may be very surprizing and agreeable in its Parts. (Cummings 1971: 260)

Pope follows suit in the preface to his edition of Shakespeare (1725):

one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finish'd and regular, as upon an ancient majestick piece of Gothick Architecture, compar'd with a neat Modern building: The latter is more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and more solemn. (Smith 1903: 62)

By the end of the century, the quest for an independent gothic aesthetic was well under way, expressed in the criticism and creation of fiction, drama, and poetry, as well as fine art and architecture. Eighteenth-century poets engaged in many forms of productive negotiations with the past: these will form the subject of the rest of this chapter.

William Collins (1721—59) displays his admiration for Spenser, even in a passage which awards poetical supremacy to another poet. He recalls the girdle of Florimell in Faerie Queene, IV. v, which can be worn only by a perfectly chaste woman, in his "Ode on the Poetical Character" (1746). Collins imagines the gift of poetic inspiration as a divinely fashioned belt, the property of "Young Fancy" (l. 17), who

To few the God-like Gift assigns,

To gird their blest prophetic Loins,

And gaze her Visions wild, and feel unmix'd her Flame!

He feels it would be presumptuous for anyone but Milton to claim this high honor: Collins pictures him lying in a sacred grove beneath a prophetic oak tree, listening to the music of the spheres, and confesses his own unsuccessful attempts to emulate him:

With many a Vow from Hope's aspiring Tongue, My trembling Feet his guiding Steps pursue;

Although Milton is the only poet described as receiving this level of poetic inspiration, the fact that Collins uses an allegory derived from Spenser to introduce his subject suggests that he has a high opinion of Spenser, too, as an inspired poet. [See ch. 19, "William Collins, 'Ode on the Poetical Character.' "]

Poetic responses to Shakespeare take many forms. In "The Progress of Poesy" (1757) Thomas Gray devises an allegorical episode to illustrate the common belief that Shakespeare was, as Johnson put it, "the poet of nature" ( Johnson 1958-90: vol. 7, 62):

Far from the sun and summer-gale, In thy green lap was Nature's Darling laid, What time, where lucid Avon stray'd, To Him the mighty Mother did unveil Her aweful face: The dauntless Child Stretch'd forth his little arms, and smiled.

However, the most impressive proof of Shakespeare's pervasive influence is provided by casual allusions that neither make nor require an explicit comment. Matthew Prior (1664-1721) begins his poem "On a Pretty Madwoman" (1740) with the line, "While mad Ophelia we lament" (l. 1). There is no need to explain why this is a suitable name for an attractive young lady smitten with a mental illness: Shakespeare's characters are part of the language.

In the 1790s, a fashion for Shakespeare parodies is reflected in the poetry section of the Gentleman's Magazine. The object of the exercise is to choose a speech and apply its structure to another topic: there is no intention to point to any flaw in Shakespeare's style. Nor is there any sense that the speech might be part of a dramatic dialogue: much of the material used is derived from soliloquies, with the famous "To be or not to be" speech (Hamlet, III. i) applied to several late eighteenth-century dilemmas. Sometimes the game is to use as many of Shakespeare's original words as possible, but applied to a new subject: a version by "J. S. H.," beginning "To ride, or not to ride?," defines equine unpredictability as the force which "makes us rather walk in clouted shoes / Then fly to horses that we know not of' (Gentleman's Magazine 1792: June, 557-8, ll. 28-9). Generally, though, new words are required. The best-known exponent of this art was Thomas Ford (1742-1821), who, as "Mowbraensis," began to publish in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1792. The first group of his parodies includes a description of a cook's shop, based on the moment in Romeo and Juliet, V. i, when Romeo remembers an apothecary whose shop indicates extreme poverty: a man so poor must surely be desperate enough to sell Romeo the poison he needs to commit suicide. By contrast, Ford's catalogue of the cook's appetizing wares indicates a thriving business: his parody lowers the tone from tragedy to comedy, but, with its minute descriptions, pays tribute to Shakespeare's eye for concrete detail:

A buttock stuff d, nice tripe, and other strings Of well-spic'd sausages - and upon his board

A sovereign remedy for empty stomachs, Green-peas and ducks, pork-steaks, and mutton-chops, Remnant of goose, pigeon-pye, and plates of cold ham, Were amply set out to make up a show.

Ford is still going strong in 1800, now under the Shakespearian name of Master Shallow. His fortieth offering includes a treatment of Jaques' speech on the seven ages of man from As You Like It, II. v, in which a professed cynic draws a picture of the unhappiness, helplessness, and futility which seem to be inevitable concomitants of the human condition. Ford's version is a heavily moralized account of a naughty child who successively becomes a truant, an idle apprentice, a "Democrat, / Loud for reform, and wily as the fox," a "Sharper, / With loaded dice, and false pack'd cards about him," and finally a "desperate Highwayman' who is tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to execution, "Sans friend, sans hope, sans pity, sans reprieve" (Gentleman's Magazine 1800: Nov., 1084, ll. 7-8, 11-12, 16, 23). These compositions provide fascinating insights into eighteenth-century preoccupations.

So far, all the creative responses considered have been written in eighteenth-century English. But this was not the language in which the texts that inspired them had been written. The specter of linguistic change could seriously damage poetic self-confidence. The effects appear in Pope's Essay on Criticism (1711), where new language is considered dangerous; conservatism, however, offers no security:

In Words, as Fashions, the same Rule will hold; Alike Fantastick, if too New, or Old;

Be not the first by whom the New are try'd,

Nor yet the last to lay the Old aside.

Yet if nobody dared to try new words, and everybody abandoned familiar words for fear of being the last to use them, poetry would soon have no vocabulary. Something about language is clearly troubling Pope; his knowledge of earlier English literature has convinced him that he is composing his life's work in a perishable medium: "Our Sons their Fathers' failing Language see, / And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be" (ll. 482-3).

Others found grounds for hope in the past. John Hughes observed that Chaucer and Spenser have taken deep Root, like old British Oaks, and . . . flourish in defiance of all the Injuries of Time and Weather. The former is indeed much more obsolete in his Stile than the latter; but it is owing to an extraordinary native Strength in both, that they have been able thus far to survive amidst the Changes of our Tongue, and seem rather likely, among the Curious at least, to preserve the Knowledg of our Antient Language, than to be in danger of being destroy'd with it, and bury'd under its Ruins. (Cummings 1971: 248)

If older forms of English could be read with enjoyment, might they still be written? Some poets rode the storm of linguistic change by indulging in forgery, provoking bitter controversies that gave editors and scholars an opportunity to hone their newly devised critical tools. Thomas Chatterton (1752-70) devoted much of his tragically short life to refashioning Bristol's medieval literary heritage. He is best known today for two ballads, "An Excelente Balade of Charitie" (1770) and the "Mynstrelles Songe" from &lla (1769), both ascribed to the fifteenth-century priest Thomas Rowley. Like Addison, Chatterton sought to demonstrate that the best traditional literature adhered to classical standards, but his methods were radically different: he "discovered" various medieval works in classical forms, including two fragments from the epic Battle of Hastynges (1768), three "Eclogues" (1769), an "Englysh Metamorphosis" (1769) in the manner of Ovid, and the tragedies Goddwyn (1769) and &lla. An extract from this last illustrates Chatterton's characteristic combination of unwitting addiction to fashionable clichés with the gleeful realization that the play's Anglo-Saxon setting not only permits but demands a breach of more modern decorums, involving a reference to a beverage whose lowly existence is never acknowledged in Augustan tragedy. The jealous Celmonde soliloquizes about Ella's marriage to the heroine, whom he loves:

And cann I lyve to see herr wythe anere [another]!

Ytt cannotte, muste notte, naie, ytt shalle not bee.

Thys nyghte I'll putte stronge poysonn ynn the beere,

And hymm, herr, and myselfe, attenes [at once] wyll slea.

The century's skullduggery culminated with the anonymous publication of a play originally attributed to Shakespeare: Vortigern: an Historical Tragedy (1799), "discovered" by William Henry Ireland in 1795 and performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on April 2, 1796; the premiere had originally been planned for the previous day, but was delayed, "for fear of the enterprise seeming Foolish" (Bate 1997: 84).

The use of past styles did not necessarily involve forgery: the eighteenth century was, after all, the golden age of poetic imitation. One of Pope's imitations was first published anonymously as "A Tale of Chaucer. Lately found in an old Manuscript" (1727). Presumably working on the assumption that his readers would be disappointed if it did not savor of immodesty, he produces a tale about a young man who tries to hide a stolen duck from a group of ladies by stuffing it into his breeches:

Forth thrust a white Neck, and red Crest.

Te-he cry'd Ladies; Clerke nought spake:

Miss star'd; and gray Ducke crieth Quaake.

A virgin in the party glumly concludes that it is safer to suffer frustration than "trust on Mon, whose yerde can talke" (l. 26). Spenser provided a softer target for imitators, since his own style was itself a fake, consisting of Elizabethan English with a top-dressing of supposedly medieval grammar and vocabulary. The most influential Spenserian imitation was The Castle of Indolence (1748), an allegorical fantasy by James Thomson (1700-48). Romantic sensibilities were charmed by his description of a "pleasing Land of Drowsyhed" and "Dreams that wave before the half-shut Eye" (Thomson 1986: I. 46-7).

Lines between imitation and originality, authentic and fake, are often blurred. Any publication generally involves a measure of collaboration: for example, when Thomas Percy (1729-1811) compiled Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), a glorious medley of verse from the Renaissance to his own time, his editorial practice ranged from the light-handed to the downright creative. Entirely original, but still drawing on older poetic traditions, is the epoch-making Lyrical Ballads (1798) by William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). The latter's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is the clearest example of this harmony: both an exquisitely crafted pastiche of a medieval ballad and a uniquely eerie masterpiece in its own right. Romantic and gothic literature are rooted in such minglings of past and present. Eighteenth-century poets would have been making a grave mistake had they underestimated their debt to their predecessors; today's readers would be equally wrong to ignore the role of eighteenth-century poets and critics who preserved, transmitted, and occasionally created our earlier literary heritage.

See also chs. 16, "Mary Leapor, 'Crumble-Hall' "; 19, "William Collins, 'Ode on the Poetical Character' "; 34, "Augustanism and Pre-Romanticism"; 36, "The Pleasures and Perils of the Imagination."

References and Further Reading

Addison, Joseph, and Steele, Richard (1965). The Spectator, 5 vols., ed. Donald F. Bond. Oxford: Clarendon.

Bate, J. (1997). The Genius of Shakespeare. London: Picador.

Chatterton, Thomas (1971). The Complete Works of Thomas Chatterton: A Bicentenary Edition, 2 vols., ed. Donald S. Taylor in association with Benjamin B. Hoover. Oxford: Clarendon.

Cummings, R. M. (1971). Spenser: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Dryden, John (1956-2000). The Works of John Dryden, 20 vols., ed. E. N. Hooker, H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., et al. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

Gentleman's Magazine (1792). Vol. 62. London: John Nichols.

Gentleman's Magazine (1800). Vol. 70. London: John Nichols & Son.

Gerrard, Christine (1994). The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725-42. Oxford: Clarendon.

Gondris, J., ed. (1998). Reading Readings: Essays on Shakespeare Editing in the Eighteenth Century. Madison, Wise.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses.

Johnson, Samuel (1905). Lives of the English Poets, 3 vols., ed. G. Birkbeck Hill. Oxford: Clarendon.

Johnson, Samuel (1958-1990). The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, ed. Herman W. Liebert et al., 16 vols. (and continuing). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Pope, Alexander (1939-69). The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, 11 vols., gen. ed. John Butt. London: Methuen.

Shakespeare, W. (1901). Twelfe Night, or, What You Will, A New Variorum Edition, ed.

Horace Howard Furness. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

Smith, D. N. (1928). Shakespeare in the Eighteenth

Century. Oxford: Clarendon. Smith, D. N, ed. (1903). Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare. Glasgow: James MacLehose & Sons.

Spenser, Edmund (1802). The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser, 6 vols., ed. J. Upton, with preface by J. Aikin. London: J. Heath & G. Kearsley.

Steele, R. (1987). The Tatler, 3 vols., ed. D. F. Bond. Oxford: Clarendon.

Thomson, James (1986). Liberty, The Castle of Indolence, and Other Poems, ed. James Sambrook. Oxford: Clarendon.

Walsh, M. (1997). Shakespeare, Milton, and Eighteenth-Century Literary Editing: The Beginnings of Interpretive Scholarship. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Warton, T. (1762). Observations on the Fairy Queen of Spenser, 2 vols. London: R. & J. Dodsley; Oxford: J. Fletcher.

Wurtsbaugh, J. (1936). Two Centuries of Spenserian Scholarship (1609—1805). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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