1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Gifford

Peter L. Courtier, in Lyre of Love (1806) 2:112-14.



The account of Gifford has been published by himself, with a manliness of mind, and integrity of detail, of Which perhaps there is no other example throughout the range of general biography. It is in this spirit that lives should be written, if they are designed to inform the living, and not merely to eulogise the dead.

William Gifford was born in April 1757, at Ashburton in Devonshire. Rescued from obscurity by the force of his own merit, supported by the generous discrimination of Mr. Cookesley, a surgeon of his native place, he afterwards procured admission to Exeter College, Oxford. Here a casual connexion became the means of introducing him to the notice of the late Earl Grosvenor, to whose unexampled patronage, during a period of twenty years, the world is probably indebted for the possession of those excellent satires the Baviad and Maeviad, of which the latter appeared in 1795.

If conjecture may be allowed to designate the object of the only "two wild strains that live in Mr. Gifford's recollection," surely it is of ANNA that he speaks, in the following melancholy passage of his early life. "I crept on in silent discontent, unfriended and unpitied; indignant at the present, careless of the future, an object at once of apprehension and dislike. From this state of abjectness I was raised by a young woman of my own class.

"She was a neighbour; and whenever I took my solitary walk, with my Wolfius in my pocket, she usually came to the door, and by a smile, or a short question put in the friendliest manner, endeavoured to solicit my attention. My heart had been long shut to kindness, but the sentiment was not dead in me: it revived at the first encouraging word: and the gratitude I felt for it, was the first pleasing sensation I had ventured to entertain for many dreary months." To this amiable girl, and to her only, seem to refer these lines, in the Baviad and Maeviad, introductory of the two poems to Anna.

Unheard till ANNA came,
(What! throb'st thou YET, my bosom, at the name?)
And chas'd th' oppressive doubts, that round me clung,
And fir'd my breast, and loosen'd all my tongue.

* * * * * *
How oft, O Dart! what time the faithful Pair
Walk'd forth, the fragrant hour of Eve to share,
On thy romantic banks; have my wild strains.
(Not yet forgot amidst my native plains)
While thou hast sweetly gurgled down the vale,
Fill'd up the pause of love's delightful tale!
While, ever as the road, the conscious Maid
By faltering voice and downcast looks betray'd,
Would blushing on her Lover's neck recline,
And with her finger point the tenderest line!

Such a woman was not likely to be effaced from the memory of such a lover! it is in this canonization of the heart, this sanctity of attachment, that human affection appears to approach the immortality for which it was designed.