Charlotte Smith’s “tender and exquisite effusions”

[To celebrate the recent publication of our new edition of Charlotte Smith: Major Poetic Works, we are sharing an excerpt from a review included in the appendices of the new edition. This glowing review was published in Gentlemen’s Magazine in April of 1786, in response to Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets.]

It has been suggested by a valuable correspondent, that we cannot adopt a more elegant decoration than a few sonnets by this pathetic poetess. To the number of those originally published by her, she has now made an addition of twenty new ones. We cannot, however forbear expressing a hope that the misfortunes she so often hints at, are all imaginary. We must have perused her very tender and exquisite effusions with diminished pleasure, could we have supposed her sorrows to be real.—It would be hard indeed if a lady, who has so much contributed to the delight of others, should feel any want of happiness herself.

[Sonnet V]
AH! hills belov’d! —where once a happy child,
Your beechen shades, “your turf, your flowers among,”
I wove your blue-bells into garlands wild,
And woke your echoes with my artless song.
Ah! hills belov’d!— your turf, your flow’rs remain;
But can they peace to this sad breast restore;
For one poor moment sooth the sense of pain,
And teach a breaking heart to throb no more?
And you, Aruna!— in the vale below,
As to the sea your limpid waves you bear,
Can you one kind Lethean cup bestow,
To drink a long oblivion to my care?
Ah, no! —when all, e’en Hope’s last ray is gone,
There’s no oblivion —but in death alone!

[Sonnet IX]
BLEST is yon shepherd, on the turf reclined,
Who on the varied clouds which float above
Lies idly gazing—while his vacant mind
Pours out some tale antique of rural love!
Ah! he has never felt the pangs that move
Th’ indignant spirit, when with selfish pride,
Friends, on whose faith the trusting heart rely’d,
Unkindly shun th’ imploring eye of woe!
The ills they ought to sooth, with taunts deride,
And laugh at tears themselves have forced to flow.
Nor his rude bosom those fine feelings melt,
Children of Sentiment and Knowledge born,
Thro’ whom each shaft with cruel force is felt,
Empoison’d by deceit —or barb’d with scorn.

[Sonnet XXXVI]
ON thy wild banks, by frequent torrents worn,
No glittering fanes,° or marble domes appear, temples
Yet shall the mournful Muse thy course adorn,
And still to her thy rustic waves be dear.
For with the infant Otway, lingering here,
Of early woes she bade her votary dream,
While thy low murmurs sooth’d his pensive ear,
And still the poet —consecrates the stream.
Beneath the oak and birch that fringe thy side,
The first-born violets of the year shall spring;
And in thy hazles, bending o’er the tide,
The earliest nightingale delight to sing:
While kindred spirits, pitying, shall relate
Thy Otway’s sorrows, and lament his fate!

A very trifling compliment is paid to Mrs. Smith when it is observed how much her Sonnets exceed those of Shakespeare and Milton. She undoubtedly conferred honour on a species of poetry which most of her predecessors in this country have disgraced.—The pieces, however, which are the genuine offspring of her own fancy, are by far the most interesting in her whole collection. The wretched suicide Werter is too much flatterd [sic] by her notice; and the strains of Petrarch are more talked of than imitated, even in the country that produced them.

As Mrs. Smith, in her XXXIXth Sonnet, addressed to some Female Friend, has declared herself an unfit Votary of “Laughing Thalia,” why will she not undertake the cause of her “Pensive Sister,” by producing a tragedy?

Posted on May 30, 2017