Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
Critical Introduction by Thomas Arnold
Richard Glover (17121785)
[Richard Glover, the son of a London merchant, was born in 1712, in a house near Cannon Street, City. He was not at either university, but through sympathy with the history of ancient Greece made himself a competent Greek scholar. He entered into business, and was much esteemed and trusted by the London merchants. In 1760 he was elected M.P. for Weymouth. His chief poems were, Leonidas, 1737 (enlarged in 1770); London, or the Progress of Commerce, 1739; Admiral Hosiers Ghost, in the same year; and The Athenaid, published posthumously in 1788. He died in 1785.]
GLOVER was a man of considerable powers, but he was stronger on the side of politics and practical life than in the field of literature. In his poems the rhetoric of party warfare is more conspicuous than the inspiration of genius. His best-known poem, Leonidas, was based it is true on his reading of Herodotus and Plutarch; but in reality it is the utterance of one who wished to stir his fellow-citizens to an anti-Walpole patriotic policy. So far as the form is concerned it may be called a blank-verse echo of Popes version of Homer, the influence of which may continually be traced; and under the inspiration of this model Glover expands the few simple chapters of his authority Herodotus into the dimensions of an epic by inventing various characters, love-affairs, and thrilling episodes.
Campbell remarks that the want of impetuosity of progress is the chief fault in the poem. It does not seem clear that this censure is just. The action moves on swiftly enough, and is sufficiently varied by epoch-making or decorative incidents. The personages introduced are not inactive, or long-winded; they have only the damning fault of being dull. The reader does not much care what they do, nor what becomes of them. A sort of glossy rhetoric is the general characteristic of the poem, which accordingly is not without striking passages, but the lack of human interest mars the total effect. Campbell was nearer the mark when, after observing that Glover does not make his pictures grotesque by introducing modern accessories and details, he added,but his purity is cold, his heroes are like outlines of Grecian faces, with no distinct or minute physiognomy. In agreement with this line of criticism, Southey describes Leonidas as cold and bald, stately rather than strong in its best parts, and in general rather stiff than stately. The terseness which Glover, writing about Spartans, affected, made him often pile a number of short abrupt sentences one upon the other; hence the stiffness and baldness of which Southey complains. Thus we read in Book xii:
On living embers these are cast. So wills
Leonidas. The phalanx then divides.
Four troops are formd, by Dithyrambus led,
By Alpheus, by Diomedon. The last
Himself conducts. The word is given. They seize
The burning fuel.
The conclusion, where Leonidas, after performing impossible feats of valour and slaughter, dies without a word, rather of exhaustion than of wounds, exhibits an uninteresting flatness, which Glover, who knew Virgil well, and must have noted how wonderfully effective are the last words of Dido, Turnus, Pallas, and Mezentius, ought sedulously to have avoided.
Of the Athenaid, a sequel to Leonidas, with its thirty books, it is enough to say that it is simply unreadable. It appears to be a florid reproduction, with new incidents and scenery, of the story of the Græco-Persian war, from Thermopylæ to Platæa.
The opposition to Sir Robert Walpole found in Glover an enthusiastic ally. One of his chief objects in writing London is said to have been to exasperate the public mind against Spain, a power to which Walpole was held to have truckled. In the same year, after the news came of Vernons success at Porto Bello, Glover wrote the spirited ballad of Hosiers Ghost, rather perhaps with the design of damaging Walpole than exalting Vernon. The political aim interests us no more; but the music and swing of the verse,perhaps also the naval cast of the imagery and the diction,will keep this ballad popular with Englishmen for many a year to come.