1879 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Laurence Eusden

Walter Hamilton, in The Poets Laureate (1879) 138-45.



While in their camp retir'd both armies lay,
Some panting, others fearful, for the day,
EUSDEN, a laurell'd Bard, by fortune rais'd,
By very few been read, by fewer praised.
From place to place, forlorn and breathless, flies
And offers bribes immense for strong allies.
In vain he spent the day, the night in vain,
For all the laureate, and his bribes, disdain,
With heart dejected he returned alone
Upon the banks of Cham, to make his moan
Resolv'd to spend his future days in ease,
And only toil in verse himself to please,
To fly the noisy candidates of Fame,
Nor ever court again so coy a Dame.

This very small poet was born in Yorkshire, but at what date is not exactly known, for few biographers have taken much pains to discover the details of his early career. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was afterwards for some time chaplain to Lord Willoughby de Broke, through whose interest probably be received the living of Coningsby, in Lincolnshire.

His poems (a few of which are preserved in Nicholls' collection) are now quite forgotten, and were held in little esteem during his lifetime. On the death of Rowe, his patrons exerted their influence, and with success, to obtain the office of Laureate for Eusden. The Duke of Newcastle, then Lord Chamberlain, was chiefly to blame, for an appointment so ridiculous in itself, and reflecting, such great dishonour on the office which had been held by Jonson, Davenant, and Dryden.

As Figaro says, "Il fallait un calculateur, ce fut un danseur qui l'obtint;" they wanted a poet king, they chose a drunken country parson.

Eusden, out of gratitude, composed several adulatory poems on his friends, and some odes to the king, in which excess of flattery, without the art to conceal it, is the most noticeable feature. It is true the Odes are very blasphemous, and to compare George I. or George II. to the Deity, although it might be an entirely novel idea which was never likely to occur to anyone else, is not altogether an agreeable one. This world offered him no comparison for the Georges, so he fearlessly chose one from the heavens; it would not have been courtier-like to have made a selection from any other place:

Praise undeserved, is scandal in disguise,
Well may he blush, who gives it, or receives;
And when I flatter let my dirty leaves
(Like journals, odes, and such forgotten things
As Eusden, Philips, Settle, writ of Kings,)
Clothe spice, line trunks, or fluttering in a row,
Befringe the rails of Bedlam and Soho. — POPE.

Mr. Oldmixon, in his Arts of Logic and Rhetoric, remarks that: "The putting of the laurel on the head of one who writ such verses, will give futurity a very lively idea of the judgment and justice of those who bestowed it. For of all the galimatias I ever met with, none comes up to some verses of this poet, which have as much of the ridiculum and the fustian in them as can well be jumbled together; and are of that sort of nonsense, which so perfectly confounds all ideas, that there is no distinct one left in the mind."

As a sample of a style of composition, now happily extinct, the annexed fragment may be interesting, or even amusing; it is by no means an unfavourable specimen of Eusden's Odes:

A POEM
On the Happy Succession and Coronation of His present Majesty, King George II.
By Laurence, Eusden, 1727.

So when Great Brunswick yielded to his fate
O'ercast and cheerless was Britannia's state,
Her cheeks to lose their bloomy hue begun,
And all her roses vanished with her sun.
Till a now Brunswick, with an equal ray,
Re-call'd at once her beauties, and the day,
Firm and un-changed, the spires and turrets stand,
Religion, joyn'd with Liberty's fair band,
In triumph walk, and bless with wonted smiles, the land.
Hail, mighty monarch! whose desert alone
Would, without birth-right, raise thee to a throne.
Thy virtues shine peculiarly nice,
Un-gloom'd with a confinity to vice,
What strains shall equal to thy glories rise,
First of the world, and borderer on the skies?
How exquisitely great, who can'st inspire
Such joys, that Albion mourns no more thy sire
Thy Sire! a Prince, she loved to that degree
She almost trespass'd to the Deity.
Imperial weight he bore with so much ease
Who, but thyself, would not despair to please?
A dull, fat, thoughtless heir, unheeded, springs
From a long, slothful line of restive kings
And thrones, inur'd to a tyrannic race,
Think a now tyrant not a new disgrace,
Tho' by the change the state no bliss receives,
And Nero dies in vain, if Otho lives.
But when a stem, with fruitful branches crowned,
Still ever seem (if they survive or fall,)
All heroes, and their country's fathers all.
His great forerunners when the last outshone,
Who could a brighter hope, or ev'n as bright a son?
Old Rome, with tears the younger Scipio view'd,
Who not in fame her African renew'd.
Avant, degenerate grafts, or spurious breed,
'Tis a George only can a George succeed;
The shafts of Death, the Pelian art have found,
They bring at once the balm that give the wound.

In another of these "gushing" effusions we find the lines,

Such to Britannia is her king
As the softly murmuring spring.
CHORUS
GENIUS! now securely rest,
We shall ever now be blest.
Thou thy guardianship may spare
BRITANNIA is a BRUNSWICK'S care!

Such fustian could scarcely fail to evoke ridicule, and in the Grub Street Journal, August 27, 1730, there appeared a parody of Dryden's celebrated Epigram on Milton; Parson Eusden is the hero:—

Three Poets (grave divines) in England born,
The Prince's entry did with verse adorn.
The first in lowliness of thought surpass'd;
The next in bombast; and in both the last.
DULLNESS no more could for her Laureate do,
To perfect him, she joined the former two.

In the Spectator of June 7, 1711, there is a curious letter on Idols, contributed by Eusden, in which, although the humour is not very brilliant, there are some amusing illustrations of customs, which are not yet quite obsolete:

"Mr. Spectator.

Upon reading your late dissertation concerning idols, I cannot but complain to you that there axe, in six or seven places of this city, coffeehouses kept by persons of that sisterhood. These idols sit and receive all day long the adoration of the youth within such and such districts. I know, in particular, goods are not entered as they ought to be at the Custom House, nor Law Reports perused at the Temple, by reason of one beauty who detains the young merchants too long near 'Change, and another fair one who keeps the students at her house when they should be at study.

It would be worth your while to see how the idolators alternately offer incense to their idols, and what heartburnings arise in those who wait for their turn to receive kind aspects from those little thrones, which all the company but these lovers, call the bars. I saw a gentleman turn as pale as ashes, because an idol turned the sugar in a tea dish for his rival, and carelessly called the boy to serve him, with a 'Sirrah! why don't you give the gentleman the box to please himself?' Certain it is, that a very hopeful young man was taken with leads in his pockets below bridge, where he intended to drown himself, because his idol would wash the dish in which she bad but just drank tea, before she would let him use it.

I am, Sir, a person past being amorous, and do not give this information out of envy or jealousy, but I am a real sufferer by it.

These lovers take anything for tea and coffee. I saw one yesterday surfeit to make his court, and all his rivals at the same time, loud in the commendation of liquors that went against everybody in the room that was not in love.

While these young fellows resign their stomachs with their hearts, and drink at the idol in this manner, we who come to do business, or talk politics, are utterly poisoned.

They have also drams for those who are more enamoured than ordinary; and it is very common for such as are too low in constitution to ogle the idol upon the strength of tea, to fluster themselves with warmer liquors; thus all pretenders advance as fast they can, to a fever or a diabetes.

I must repeat to you, that I do not look with an evil eye upon the profit of the idols, or the diversions of the lovers; what I hope from this remonstrance is only that we plain people may not be served as if we were idolators; but that from the time of publishing this in your paper, the idols would mix ratsbane only for their admirers, and take more care of us who don't love them.

I am, Sir,

Yours T. T."

The appointment of Eusden as Laureate gave John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, the topic for his famous little satirical poem The Election of a Poet Laureate, which he has treated in a similar style to Suckling's Sessions of the Poets, previously alluded to.

A famous assembly was summoned of late,
To crown a new laureat came Phoebus in state,
With all that Montfaucon himself could desire,
His bow, laurel, harp, and abundance of fire.

* * * * * *

All came with full confidence, flushed with vain hope,
From Cibber and Durfey, to Prior and Pope.
Phoebus smiled on these last, but yet ne'ertheless,
Said he hoped they had got enough by the press.

* * * * * *

Lampooners and critics rush'd in like a tide,
Stern Dennis and Gildon came first side by side,
Apollo confess'd that their lashes had stings,
But beadles and hangmen were never chose kings.

* * * * * *

Steel long had so cunningly manag'd the town,
He could not be blamed for expecting the crown,
Apollo demurr'd as to granting his wish,
But wish'd him good luck in his project of fish.

Lame Congreve unable such things to endure
Of Apollo begg'd either a crown or a cure;
To refuse such a writer, Apollo was loth,
And almost inclin'd to have granted them both.

Buckingham next describes his own entry:—

When Buckingham came he scarce car'd to be seen,
Till Phoebus desir'd his old friend to walk in,
But a laureat peer had never been known,
The commoners claimed that place as their own.
Yet if the kind God had been e'er so inclin'd
To break an old rule, yet he well knew his mind,
Who, of such preferment, would only make sport,
And laughed at all suitors for places at Court.

The god is bewildered by the clamour of the assembled candidates, eager for the crown, when—

At last rush'd in Eusden, and cried, "Who shall have it,
But I the true laureat, to whom the King gave it?"
Apollo begg'd pardon, and granted his claim,
But vow'd, that till then, he had ne'er heard his name.

The only poetical works composed by Eusden that have ever received attention or commendation, are his translations of parts of Ovid's Metamorphoses; he commenced a translation of Tasso's poems, but before this work was ready for the press, his excesses in drink put an end to his life, on the 27th of September, 1730.

Gray laconically said of him,— "That he was a person of great hopes in his youth, though at last he turned out a drunken parson."

The death of Eusden made way for the promotion of the well known actor, playwright, and hero of the Dunciad, Colley Cibber:—

She (Dulness) saw old Prynne in restless Daniel shine,
And Eusden eke out Blackmore's endless line;
She saw slow Phillips creep like Tate's poor page,
And all the mighty mad in Dennis rage.
In each she marks her image full exprest,
But chief in Bays's monster breeding breast;
Bays, form'd by nature, stage and town to bless,
And act, and be, a coxcomb, with success.
Dulness with transport eyes the lively dunce,
Remembering she herself was Pertness once.
Now (shame to Fortune) an ill run at play
Blank'd his bold visage, and a thin third day:
Swearing and supperless the hero sate,
Blasphemed his gods, the dice, and damn'd his fate.
Then gnaw'd his pen, then dash'd it on the ground,
Sinking from thought to thought, a vast profound!
Plunged for his sense, but found no bottom there,
Yet wrote and flounder'd on, in mere despair.
A. POPE. THE DUNCIAD.