1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir James Bland Burges

Anonymous, "Biographical Sketch of Sir James Bland Burges, Bart." in Monthly Mirror 11 (February 1801) 75-78.



This is an age in which talent is as much respected as rank; and what does us more honour, because the occurrence is rarer, it is an age in which rank and talent are very frequently found united in the same person. Men of the first consequence in society are anxious to arrive at literary distinction; and it is not too much to say, that GENIUS, who has been so long enamoured of the haunts of Want and Obscurity, seems of late years to have shewn a decided preference to the children of Opulence and Fashion.

We have recently given an instance of this partiality in the person of the accomplished EARL OF CARLISLE, and our Mirror has reflected a variety of distinguished characters who shine in the first walks both of literature and elegant life.

It is with great satisfaction, that we are now enabled to enrich our repository with a portrait, and a few biographical particulars, of SIR JAMES BLAND BURGES, BART. a gentleman whose poetical talents have excited the highest admiration, and who has, also, on sundry occasions, presented to the public some very valuable and interesting publications in prose.

Sir James is the only son of George Burges, Esq. by his wife, the Hon. Anne Wichnoure Somerville, daughter of Lord Somerville. For about seven years he remained under the instruction of the Rev. Dr. Somerville, the ingenious author of the History of the Reign of Queen Anne, and other historical performances; during which time he attended for the space of two years the university of Edinburgh. He was then placed at Westminster school, where he continued till Christmas 1769, when he was removed to University College, Oxford, and was placed under the tuition of the Right Honourable Sir William, then Doctor, Scott, brother of Lord Eldon, and the present amiable and enlightened judge of the High Court of Admiralty.

He remained at college till the year 1773, when he made the tour of France, Italy, Switzerland, and part of Germany. On his return he attended the courts in Westminster Hall, and in Easter term 1777, was called to the bar by the society of Lincoln's Inn.

In the same year he was united to the Honourable Elizabeth Noel, sister of the present Lord Viscount Wentworth, who died soon after without issue.

In 1778 he published An heroic Epistle from Serjeant Bradshaw, in the Shades, to John Dunning, Esq.

In 1780, he married his second wife, Ann, daughter of the late Colonel Montolieu, by which lady, who is still living, he has a numerous family.

In the year 1783 appeared his Considerations on the Law of Insolvency, with a Proposal for a Reform, and almost immediately afterwards, a Letter to the Earl of Effingham on Insolvent Acts. The motives which led to these publications were of the most benevolent nature: — to relieve the poor debtor from the pressure of some very severe statutes, and to suggest many important and beneficial alterations in the bankrupt laws.

In 1787 he was elected a member of parliament for the borough of Helston in Cornwall, and was re-chosen for the same place at the general election in 1790.

In 1789 he was appointed one of the under secretaries of state for the foreign department, and, in 1794, a joint commissioner, with Evan Nepean, and Stephen Cottrell, Esqs. of the privy seal.

On his resigning his situation of under secretary of state, in 1795, an office in which he manifested great ability, accompanied by the most pleasing urbanity of manners, he was rewarded by being created a baronet, and had the honour also to be appointed knight marshal of His Majesty's household.

Amidst the fatigues of office, he, nevertheless, found time to contribute some valuable additions to the stock of legal and political knowledge. In 1789 he published a Letter to the Country Gentlemen of England and Wales, on County Courts; in which, prompted by the same humanity that influenced him in penning his Considerations on the Law of Insolvency, he again pleads the cause of the poor and oppressed, and exposes the enormous abuses which existed in the county courts. The justice done in these courts, observes the author, with manly indignation, "is indeed a justice of a very peculiar nature, which effectually ruins both parties, as well him who sues as him who is sued — where the costs are made to amount to more than an hundred times the sum demanded — where the plaintiff, if he gains his suit, receives a few shillings, while the attorney's bill is taxed at two-and-twenty pounds — and where nine times out of ten, the one party is committed to gaol, and the other is obliged to fly his country."

In 1790 appeared VERUS'S Letters on the Spanish Aggression at Nootka, the production of Mr. Burges, which had previously excited much attention in Mr. Woodfall's newspaper called The Diary; and in 1793, ALFRED'S Letters, or a Review of the Political State of Europe, to the End of the Summer of 1792. These letters are written with uncommon elegance and perspicuity, and discover a vast fund of political information. The Review commences at the beginning of summer 1791, and Mr. Burges examines, in succession, the political conduct and characters of all the great European powers. This general survey is applied, with remarkable ingenuity, to the justification of the measures at that time pursued by the British ministry. The letters were first published in the Sun, and were read, as they appeared, with great avidity and satisfaction.

The Birth and Triumph of Love, a poem, the plan of which is taken from a series of plates, entitled the Birth and Triumph of Cupid, and supposed to have been engraved from the designs of the Princess Elizabeth, was published in 1796. It is one of the most elegant and fanciful productions which have appeared for a long time. The allegory, as we have noticed in one of our former numbers, is somewhat imperfect, arising from the difficulty of the subject; but the poetry is of a very vigorous and lofty quality, and must afford infinite gratification to the admirers of Spenser and Milton.

Sir James has lately soared into the regions of what may be called Historical Romance. His RICHARD THE FIRST, of which we shall treat fully in our review, abounds with beauties of the higher order of poetry, and will, no doubt, hand down the author's name, with every degree of honour, to posterity.

A poet himself, Sir James is the patron of poetry, and the ardent admirer and liberal encourager of genius, in whatever shape it falls in his way. Many instances might be produced in support of this assertion; but we forbear to enter into particulars, from an apprehension of offending the delicacy of his mind.

Having been favoured with the following lines, by their author, a young poet of uncommon merit, who is rising very fast into notice, we conceive they will form a very suitable conclusion to this article, and make some amends for the imperfect account we have given of the gentleman to whom they are addressed. We may venture to recommend several of the couplets, towards the close, as equalling the happiest flights of our best poets.

ON READING RICHARD THE FIRST, A POEM, BY SIR JAMES BLAND BURGES, BART.
Lo! from the ruins of the mighty dead,
Once more, the English Genius lifts her head!
BRITAIN, once more, with partial transport views
Th' appropriate honors of the Epic Muse!
Oft has the fervour of her genuine flame
Illum'd the Theban or the Spartan name;
Lending, with liberal grace, to chiefs unknown,
Immortal wreaths, and laurels not their own:
While the brave worthies of this favour'd clime
Lay clouded in some legendary rhyme,
Whose quaint inanity presum'd to raise
A lasting theme in mockery of praise.
Not so, with unaffected spendour bright,
Meets they First Richard our enraptur'd sight,
Emerging from Oblivion's central shade,
In all the majesty of verse array'd.
Oh! would the heirs of dignified retreat;
So, by soft sanction, tenderly impart
A new-born lustre to the tuneful art;
Still might I hope, intent on high emprize,
To see a DORSET, or a SYDNEY rise!
The hope is vain: — that gen'rous glow divine,
Which breathes in harmony from breasts like thine;
That soaring spirit, which disdains to creep
Round the smooth base of the PARNASSIAN steep—
But, hurry'd with the whirlwind's force along,
Grasps the rough summit of sublimest song;
Where shall I seek, mid that degen'rate band,
Who slight the beauties of their native land?
For foreign flowers, of short duration, sigh,
And scorn those hardier blooms, that never die,
Nurs'd by the rigours of our northern sky.
To thy auspicious star we fondly turn,
Whose steadier rays, aloft, distinctly burn,
To light the minstrel through Life's stormy main,
Or guide the banish'd Muses back again—
Here, safe at length, to rest their pilgrim-feet,
And claim their old, hereditary seat.