1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Samuel Croxall

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 5:298-97.



The celebrated author of the Fair Circassian, was son of the revd. Mr. Samuel Croxall, rector of Hanworth, Middlesex, and vicar of Walton upon Thames in Surry, in the last of which places our author was born. He received his early education at Eton school, and from thence was admitted to St. John's College, Cambridge. Probably while he was at the university, he became enamoured of Mrs. Anna Maria Mordaunt, who first inspired his breast with love, and to whom he dedicates the poem of the Circassian, for which he has been so much distinguished. This dedication is indeed the characteristic of a youth in love, but then it likewise proves him altogether unacquainted with the world, and with that easiness of address which distinguishes a gentleman. A recluse scholar may be passionately in love, but he discovers it by strains of bombast, and forced allusions, of which this dedication is a very lively instance.

"The language of the Fair Circassian," says he, "like yours, was natural poetry; her voice music, and the excellent colouring and formation of her features, painting; but still, like yours, drawn by the inimitable pencil of nature, life itself, a pattern for the greatest master, but copying after none; I will not say angels are not cast in the same mould." And again in another place, "Pardon, O lovely deity, the presumption of this address, and favour my weak endeavours. If my confession of your divine power is any where too faint, believe it not to proceed from a want of due respect, but of a capacity more than human. Whoever thinks of you can no longer be himself; and if he could, ought to be something above man to celebrate the accomplishment of a goddess. To you I owe my creation as a lover, and in the beams of your beauty only I live, move, and exist. If there should be a suspension of your charms, I should fall to nothing. But it seems to be out of your power to deprive us of their kind influence; wherever you shine they fill all our hearts, and you are charming out of necessity, as the author of nature is good." We have quoted enough to shew the enthusiasm, or rather phrenzy, of this address, which is written in such a manner as if it were intended for a burlesque on the False Sublime, as the speeches of James I. are upon pedantry.

Mr. Croxall, who was intended for holy orders, and, probably, when he published the Circassian, had really entered into them, was cautious lest he should be known to be the author of this piece, since many divines have esteemed the Song of Solomon, from which it is taken, as an inspired poem, emblematic of the Messiah and the Church. Our author was of another opinion, and with him almost all sensible men join, in believing that it is no more than a beautiful poem, composed by that Eastern monarch, upon some favourite lady in his Seraglio. He artfully introduces it with a preface, in which he informs us, that it was the composition of a young gentleman, his pupil, lately deceased; executed by him, while he was influenced by that violent passion with which Mrs. Mordaunt inspired him. He then endeavours to ascertain who this Eastern beauty was, who had charms to enflame the heart of the royal poet. He is of opinion it could not be Pharaoh's daughter, as has been commonly conjectured, because the bride in the Canticles is characterised as a private person, a Shepherdess, one that kept a vineyard, and was ill used by her mother's children, all which will agree very well with somebody else, but cannot, without great straining, be drawn to fit the Egyptian Princess. He then proceeds, "seeing we have so good reason to conclude that it was not Pharaoh's daughter, we will next endeavour to shew who she was: and here we are destitute of all manner of light, but what is afforded us by that little Arabian manuscript, mentioned in the Philosophical Transactions of Amsterdam, 1558, said to be found in a marble chest among the ruins of Palmyra, and presented to the university of Leyden by Dr. Hermanus Hoffman. The contents of which are something in the nature of Memoirs of the Court of Solomon; giving a sufficient account of the chief offices and posts in his household; of the several funds of the royal revenue; of the distinct apartments of his palace there; of the different Seraglios, being fifty two in number in that one city. Then there is an account given of the Sultanas; their manner of treatment and living; their birth and country, with some touches of their personal endowments, how long they continued in favour, and what the result was of the King fondness for each of them. Among these, there is particular mention made of a slave of more exceeding beauty than had ever been known before; at whose appearance the charms of all the rest vanished like stars before the morning sun, that the King cleaved to her with the strongest affection, and was not seen out of the Seraglio, where she was kept, for about a month. That she was taken captive, together with her mother, out of a vineyard, on the Coast of Circassia, by a Corsair of Hiram King of Tyre, and brought to Jerusalem. It is said, she was placed in the ninth Seraglio, to the east of Palmyra, which, in the Hebrew tongue, is called Tadmor; which, without further particulars, are sufficient to convince us that this was the charming person, sung with so much rapture by the Royal poet, and in the recital of whose amour he seems so transported. For she speaks of herself as one that kept a vineyard, and her mother's introducing her in one of the gardens of pleasure (as it seems she did at her first presenting her to the King) is here distinctly mentioned. The manuscript further takes notice, that she was called Saphira, from the heavenly blue of her eyes."

Notwithstanding the caution with which Mr. Croxall published the Fair Circassian, yet it was some years after known to be his. The success it met with, which was not indeed above its desert, was perhaps too much for vanity (of which authors are seldom entirely divested) to resist, and he might be betrayed into a confession, from that powerful principle, of what otherwise would have remained concealed.

Some years after it was published, Mr. Cragg, one of the ministers of the city of Edinburgh, gave the world a small volume of spiritual poems, in one of which he takes occasion to complain of the prostitution of genius, and that few poets have ever turned their thoughts towards religious subjects; and mentions the author of the Circassian with great indignation, for having prostituted his Muse to the purposes of lewdness, in converting the Song of Solomon (a work, as he thought it, of sacred inspiration) into an amorous dialogue between a King and his mistress. His words are,

Curs'd be he that the Circassian wrote,
Perish his fame, contempt be all his lot,
Who basely durst in execrable strains,
Turn holy mysteries into impious scenes.

The revd. gentleman met with some remonstrances from his friends, for indulging so splenetic a temper, when he was writing in the cause of religion, as to wish any man accursed. Of this censure he was not insensible; in the next edition of his poems, he softened the sarcasm, by declaring, in a note, that he had no enmity to the author's person, and that when he wished him accursed, be meant not the man, but the author, which are two very distinct considerations; for an author may be accursed, that is, damned to fame, while the man may be in as fair a way to happiness as any body; but, continues he, I should not have expected such prophanation from a clergyman.

The Circassian however, is a beautiful poem, the numbers are generally smooth, and there is a tender delicacy in the dialogue, though greatly inferior to the noble original.

Mr. Croxall had not long quitted the university, e'er he was instituted to the living of Hampton in Middlesex; and afterwards to the united parishes of St. Mary Somerset, and St. Mary Mounthaw, in the city of London, both which he held till his death. He was also chancellor, prebend, and canon residentiary and portionist of the church of Hereford. Towards the latter end of the reign of Queen Anne he published two original Cantos, in imitation of Spenser's Fairy Queen, which were meant as a satire on the earl of Oxford's administration. In the year 1715 he addressed a poem to the duke of Argyle, upon his obtaining a Victory over the Rebels, and the same year published The Vision, a poem, addressed to the earl of Halifax. He was concerned, with many others in the translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, of which the following were performed by him:

The Story of Nisus and Scylla, from the sixth Book.

The Labyrinth, and Daedalus and Icarus, from the eighth Book.

Part of the Fable of Cyparissus from the tenth Book.

Most part of the eleventh Book, and The Funeral of Memnon, from the thirteenth Book.

He likewise performed an entire Translation of Aesop's Fables.

Subjoined to the Fair Circassian are several Poems addressed to Sylvia; Naked Truth, from the second Book of Ovid's Fastorum; Heathen Priestcraft, from the first Book of Ovid's Fastorum; A Midsummer's Wish; and an Ode on Florinda, seen while she was Bathing. He is also author of a curious work, in one Volume Octavo, entitled Scripture Politics: being a view of the original constitution, and subsequent revolutions in the government of that people, out of whom the Saviour of the World was to arise: As it is contained in the Bible.

In consequence of his strong attachment to the Whig interest, he was made archdeacon of Salop 1732, and chaplain in ordinary to his present Majesty.

As late as the year 1750, Dr. Croxall published a poem called The Royal Manual, in the preface to which he endeavours to shew, that it was composed by Mr. Andrew Marvel, and found amongst his MSS. but the proprietor declares, that it was written by Dr. Croxall himself. This was the last of his performances, for he died the year following, in a pretty advanced age. His abilities, as a poet, we cannot better display, than by the specimen we are about to quote.

ON FLORINDA, SEEN WHILE SHE WAS BATHING.
'Twas Summer, and the clear resplendent Moon,
Shedding far o'er the Plains her full-orb'd Light,
Among the lesser Stars distinctly shone,
Despoiling of its Gloom the scanty Night,
When, walking forth, a lonely Path I took
Nigh the fair Border of a purling Brook.

Sweet and refreshing was the Midnight Air,
Whose gentle Motions husht the silent Grove;
Silent, unless when prick'd with wakeful Care
Philomel warbled out her Tale of Love:
While blooming Flowers, which in the Meadows grew,
O'er all the Place their blended Odours threw.

Just by, the limpid River's chrystal Wave,
Its Eddies gilt with Phoebe's silver Ray,
Still as it flow'd a glittering Lustre gave
With glancing Gleams that emulate the Day;
Yet, oh! not half so bright as those that rise
Where young Florinda bends her smiling Eyes.

Whatever pleasing Views my Senses meet,
Her intermingled Charms improve the Theme;
The warbling Birds, the Flowers that breathe so sweet,
And the soft Surface of the dimpled Stream,
Resembling in the Nymph some lovely Part,
With Pleasures more exalted seize my Heart.

Wrapt in these Thoughts I negligently rov'd,
Imagin'd Transports all my Soul employ,
When the delightful Voice of Her I lov'd,
Sent thro' the Shades a Sound of real Joy.
Confus'd it came, with giggling Laughter mixt,
And Echo from the Banks replied betwixt.

Inspir'd with Hope, upborn with light Desire,
To the dear Place my ready Footsteps tend,
Quick, as when kindling Trails of active Fire
Up to their native Firmament ascend:
There shrouded in the Briars unseen I stood,
And thro' the Leaves survey'd the neighbouring Flood.

Florinda, with two Sister Nymphs, undrest,
Within the Channel of the cooly Tide,
By bathing sought to sooth her Virgin Breast,
Nor could the Night her dazling Beauties hide;
Her Features, glowing with eternal Bloom,
Darted, like Hesper, thro' the dusky Gloom.

Her Hair bound backward in a spiral Wreath
Her upper Beauties to my Sight betray'd,
The happy Stream, concealing Those beneath,
Around her Waste with circling Waters play'd;
Who, while the Fair One on his Bosom sported,
Her dainty Limbs with liquid Kisses courted.

A Thousand Cupids with their infant Arms
Swam padling in the Current here and there;
Some, with Smiles innocent, remark'd the Charms
Of the regardless undesigning Fair;
Some, with their little Eben Bows full-bended
And levell'd Shafts, the naked Girl defended.

Her Eyes, her Lips, her Breasts exactly round,
Of Lilly Hue, unnumber'd Arrows sent;
Which to my Heart an easy Passage found,
Thrill'd in my Bones and thro' my Marrow went:
Some bubling upward thro' the Water came,
Prepar'd by Fancy to augment my Flame.

Ah Love! how ill I bore thy pleasing Pain!
For while the tempting Scene so near I view'd,
A fierce Impatience throb'd in every Vein,
Discretion fled, and Reason lay subdued;
My Blood beat high, and with it's trembling made
A strange Commotion in the rustling Shade.

Fear seiz'd the timorous Naiads, all aghast
Their boding Spirits at the Omen sink,
Their Eyes they wildly on each other cast
And meditate to gain the farther Brink;
When in I plung'd, resolving to asswage
In the cool Gulph Love's importuning Rage.

Ah, stay Florinda! (so I meant to speak)
Let not from Love the loveliest Object fly!
But e'er I spoke, a loud combining Squeak
From shrilling Voices pierc'd the distant Sky:
When strait, as each was their peculiar Care,
Th' immortal Powers to bring Relief prepare.

A golden Cloud descended from above,
Like that which whilom hung on Ida's Brow,
Where Juno, Pallas, and the Queen of Love,
As then to Paris, were conspicuous now.
Each Goddess seiz'd her fav'rite Charge, and threw
Around her Limbs a Robe of azure Hue.

But Venus, who with Pity saw my Flame
Kindled by her own Amoret so bright,
Approv'd in private what she seem'd to blame,
And bless'd me with a Vision of Delight:
Careless she dropt Florinda's Veil aside,
That nothing mought her choicest Beauties hide.

I saw Elysium and the milky Way
Fair-opening to the Shades beneath her Breast;
In Venus' Lap the struggling Wanton lay,
And, while she strove to hide, reveal'd the rest.
A Mole, embrown'd with no unseemly Grace,
Grew near, embellishing the sacred Place.

So pleas'd I view'd, as One fatigued with Heat
Who near at Hand beholds a shady Bower,
Joyful, in Hope amidst the kind Retreat
To shun the Day-star in his Noontide Hour;
Or as when parcht with droughty Thirst he spies
A mossy Grott whence purest Waters rise.

So I Florinda — but beheld in vain:
Like Tantalus, who in the Realms below
Sees blushing Fruits, which to increase his Pain,
When he attempts to eat, his Taste forego.
O Venus, give me more, or let me drink
Of Lethe's Fountain, and forget to think.