Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
Critical Introduction by Edmund W. Gosse
Thomas Otway (16521685)
[Thomas Otway was born at Trottin, in Sussex, and died at Tower Hill, choked by a mouthful of bread ravenously eaten when he was at the brink of starvation. His most famous tragedies, The Orphan, and Venice Preserved, were printed respectively in 1680 and 1682.]
THIS is not the place to dwell on the splendid tragic genius of Otway, or to discuss his abject failure as a comedian. He claims our attention here on the score of two slender quartos of nondramatic verse, The Poets Complaint of his Muse, 1680, and Windsor Castle, 1685. The latter is a political and descriptive piece in the heroic measure; it is modelled on Denhams Coopers Hill, and betrays, notwithstanding some felicitous passages, the fatigue which was stealing over the dying author. But The Poets Complaint of his Muse is a much more original and powerful poem; it is written in the irregular measure called Pindaric, and contains a satirical portrait of the poet and of his times, drawn without charm or colour, but in firm, bold lines, like a harsh engraving. Otway displays more observation of nature than most of his contemporaries; but when he draws the world we live in, he is a draughtsman even sterner than Crabbe. We quote as an example of this important but rugged and unattractive poem the first strophe, which contains some picturesque and vivid lines. It should be remarked that Otway was absolutely unable to write even a fairly good song.