ENGLISH BARDS AND DUTCH REVIEWERS
strong in the matter of critical writing. But there had been Van Alphen, Feith, Bilderdijk himself, who, before they were poets, were, in a measure, professors of poetry, seeking to write to, and from, theory; and for their own time at least were entitled to be looked on as the re-shapers of the art and spirit of the national literature. They did not, it is true, raise fundamentally the issue of what poetry is in the same way as Wordsworth and Shelley; and soon after them again, it was apparent, something vital was lacking; a realm of possible emotion was being lost to Holland, since mere "burgerlijke poëzie", however well-intentioned, could never be accepted as adequate to the largest aims of all; here were no enunciated poetics, nothing of the impressive intellectual tradition of Vondel and Hooft that might cause the emotions to result in a critical attitude towards the whole human question. "Holland," freely wrote Sir John Bowring in 1829, "is suffering under the visitation of an overflowing mediocrity. Many excellent and amiable men, whose poetry would sound sweetly by the firesides of their little social circle, have received but too much encouragement to break through it, in order to fascinate the world. And in numerous cases an affection for these persons has interposed between them and their work. Sound and severe criticism is wanting — the criticism that while it smites hard, smites well." 1
Not until 1835 can we say there was so much as the flutter of a straw that might show which way the Romantic wind was blowing. Jacob Geel it then was who most struggled to free himself from the doubts which seemed to have paralysed the poetic faculty; and though his gospel was one of faith without works, any sort of critical intervention at this particular stage was likely to prove more effective than a host of doubtfully assured classics. His best-known essay he labelled "Gesprek op den Drachenfels"; but in reality he was drawn almost entirely by the form of Ro1 "Sketch of the Language and Literature of Holland," p. 126.