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Outlines of English and American Literature
Minor Poets of Romanticism
by Long, William J.

In the early nineteenth century the Literary Annuals appeared, took root and flourished mightily in England and America. These annuals (such a vigorous crop should have been called hardy annuals) were collections of contemporary prose or verse that appeared once a year under such sentimental names as "Friendship's Offering," "The Token" and "The Garland." That they were sold in large numbers on both sides of the Atlantic speaks of the growing popular interest in literature. Moreover, they served an excellent purpose at a time when books and libraries were less accessible than they are now. They satisfied the need of ordinary readers for poetry and romance; they often made known to the world a talented author, who found in public approval that sweet encouragement which critics denied him; they made it unlikely that henceforth "some mute, inglorious Milton" should remain either mute or inglorious; and they not only preserved the best work of minor poets but, what is much better, they gave it a wide reading.

Thanks to such collections, from which every newspaper filled its Poet's Corner, good poems which else might have hid their little light under a bushel--Campbell's "Hohenlinden," Mrs. Hemans' "Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers," Hunt's "Abou ben Adhem," Hood's "The Song of the Shirt," and many others--are now as widely known as are the best works of Wordsworth or Byron.

We can name only a few poets of the age, leaving the reader to form acquaintance with their songs in an anthology. Especially worthy of remembrance are: Thomas Campbell, who greatly influenced the American poets Halleck and Drake; Thomas Moore, whose Irish Melodies have an attractive singing quality; James Hogg (The Ettrick Shepherd); John Keble, author of The Christian Year; Thomas Hood; Felicia Hemans; and Leigh Hunt, whose encouragement of Keats is as memorable as his "Abou ben Adhem" or "The Glove and the Lions." There are other poets of equal rank with those we have ventured to name, and their melodious quality is such that a modern critic has spoken of them, in terms commonly applied to the Elizabethans, as "a nest of singing birds"; which would be an excellent figure if we could forget the fact that birds in a nest never sing. Their work is perhaps less imaginative (and certainly less fantastic) than that of Elizabethan singers, but it comes nearer to present life and reality.

One of the least known of these minor poets, Thomas Beddoes, was gifted in a way to remind us of the strange genius of Blake. He wrote not much, his life being too broken and disappointed; but running through his scanty verse is a thread of the pure gold of poetry. In a single stanza of his "Dream Pedlary" he has reflected the spirit of the whole romantic movement:

  If there were dreams to sell,
       What would you buy?
  Some cost a passing bell,
       Some a light sigh
  That shakes from Life's fresh crown
  Only a rose leaf down.
  If there were dreams to sell,
  Merry and sad to tell,
  And the crier rang the bell,
      What would you buy?


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