1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Lisle Bowles

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 33 (June 1850) 672-76.



April 7. At his residence in the Close, Salisbury, in his 88th year, the Rev. William Lisle Bowles, M.A. Canon Residentiary of Salisbury and Rector of Dumbleton, Gloucestershire.

Mr. Bowles was descended from the family of Bowles of Burcombe in Wiltshire. William Bowles, esq. of Shaftesbury, who died in 1717 (second son of John Bowles, esq. of Burcombe), had two sons, John Bowles, esq. M.P. for Shaftesbury, the ancestor of the family seated at Heale in Wiltshire, and the Rev. Matthew Bowles, of Corfe Castle, and Rector of Donhead St. Andrew, the great-grandfather of the subject of this memoir. Mr. Bowles's grandfather and father were both priests of the Church of England; the former, the Rev. Thomas Bowles, D.D. was Rector of Brackley in Northamptonshire from 1729 to 1764; the latter, the Rev. William Thomas Bowles, M.A. was Vicar of King's Sutton in the same county from 1760 to 1773, and also Rector of Uphill and Brean, co. Somerset. The poet's mother was Bridget, second daughter and co-heiress of the Rev. Richard Grey, D.D., Rector of Hinton near Brackley, the author of Memoria Technica; his paternal grandmother was Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of William Lisle, esq. of Evenley, co. Northampton, from whom he derived the name of Lisle. His father died at Shaftesbury in the year 1786, and his mother in the same town in 1797. His brother, the late Charles Bowles, esq. for many years Recorder of Shaftesbury, will be long remembered as one of the coadjutors of the late Sir Richard C. Hoare in his History of Modern Wiltshire.

Mr. Bowles was born at King's Sutton, and baptized there the 25th Sept. 1762. In 1776 he was placed on the Wykeham foundation at Winchester, under Dr. Joseph Warton. Naturally a timid, diffident boy, he ever expressed a grateful obligation to the kind encouragement he received from that eminent man, who sympathised very cordially with any manifestation of poetic talents.

The first inviting sounds of human praise,
A parent's love excepted, came from THEE;
And but for thee, perhaps, my boyish days
Had all pass'd idly, and whate'er in me
Now lives of hope been buried.
—I was one
Long bound by cold dejection's numbing chain,
As in a torpid trance, that deem'd it vain
To struggle; nor my eye-lids to the sun
Uplifted — but I heard thy cheering voice!
I shook my deadly slumber off; I gazed
Delighted round, — awaked, inspired, amazed,
I mark'd another world, and in my choice
Lovelier, and deck'd with light!
(Monody on the Death of Dr. Warton.)

During his last year at Winchester, Bowles was captain of the school, and his immediate class-fellows were Gabell, afterwards head master, and the late Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1781 he was elected a scholar of Trinity college, Oxford, there being in that year no vacancy at New college, to which he would otherwise have succeeded as senior of the boys on Wykeham's foundation. He chose Trinity college, because Tom Warton was then there. In 1783 he gained the chancellor's prize for Latin Verse, the subject being "Calpe obsessa," — the siege of Gibraltar.

He quitted the university before a fellowship had fallen to his lot, and did not proceed to his M.A. degree until the 24th May, 1792.

The early life of Mr. Bowles, and perhaps his devotion to his Muse, were materially influenced by a disappointment of the heart. He had placed his affections upon a young lady, and his attachment was returned; but marriage was decidedly forbidden by her parents. To alleviate the feelings of vexation and distress induced by this disappointment, he travelled, first in the north of England and Scotland, and afterwards on the Rhine. It was during these solitary rambles that his beautiful early Sonnets were produced, and when first submitted to the public they numbered only fourteen. These Fourteen Sonnets, published in 4to. 1789, were followed in the same year by Verses to John Howard, on his States of the Prisons and Lazarettos; and by The Grave of Howard in 1790. In the latter year Mr. Bowles also produced Verses on the Institution of the Philanthropic Society, 4to.; and in 1791, a Monody written at Matlock. In 1796 he published Elegiac Stanzas written during Sickness at Bath; and also, Hope, an allegorical Sketch, on recovering slowly from Sickness. These poetical works were collected in the same year; and so well received were they, that repeated impressions were required. The edition of 1798 was illustrated, after the fashion of the day, with good line engravings, from designs by T. Kirk, and a ninth edition was printed in 1805.

Having entered holy orders, Mr. Bowles was for many years resident as the Curate at Donhead St. Andrew, in Wiltshire, a living which had been held by his grandfather and his uncle, and of which the Rev. John Benett, LL.D. brother to Mr. Benett of Pyt House, was at this time the incumbent. We find Mr. Bowles there in 1792, and be remained until after he had obtained the vicarage of Bremhill in 1804.

In 1792 he was presented by Harry Edgell, esq. of Standerwick, to the vicarage of Chicklade, in the same county; which he resigned in 1797, being presented by Lord Somers to the rectory of Dumbleton in Gloucestershire, which he retained until his death; but he never resided at either of those places.

To the recommendation of Bowles's maternal grandfather, Dr. Grey, archbishop Moore had owed his engagement as tutor in the family of the Duke of Marlborough, which paved the way for his subsequent advancement. In remembrance of this act of friendship, the archbishop in 1804 collated the doctor's grandson to the valuable vicarage of Bremhill in Wiltshire, in his gift as an option "pro hac vice."

Mr. Bowles was in the same year collated by Bishop Douglas to the prebend of Stratford, in the cathedral church of Salisbury; which prebend he exchanged in the following year for that called the Major pars Altaris. In 1828 he was elected a canon-residentiary by the dean and canons, with whom that preferment is elective. We have only to mention one other item of his professional history. In 1818 we find him styling himself Chaplain to H.R.H. the Prince Regent.

Bremhill was Mr. Bowles's constant residence for nearly a quarter of a century. After his election as Canon, he was necessarily resident at Salisbury for a portion of the year; and latterly, since the decline of his mental faculties, he has been wholly resident there.

In 1797 he married Magdalen, daughter of the Rev. Charles Wake, D.D. Prebendary of Westminster, and granddaughter of Archbishop Wake. She died some years before him, having had no children.

We now proceed to mention Mr. Bowles's other poems (which were originally published in 4to, and then added, from time to time, to the small edition of his collected works): they were, in 1798, Combe Ellen, and St. Michael's Mount; in 1799, The Battle of the Nile; in 1801, The Sorrows of Switzerland; in 1803, The Picture, Verses suggested by a magnificent Landscape of Rubens, (8vo.); in 1805, The Spirit of Discovery, or, Conquest of Ocean, 8vo.; in 1806, Bowden Hill, the Banks of the Wye, Cadland, Southampton River, (printed at Southampton in 8 pages 4to.) in 1815, The Missionary of the Andes; in 1822, The Grave of the Last Saxon; in 1823, Ellen Gray, or, the Dead Maiden's Curse, (published under the assumed name of "the late Dr. Archibald Macleod"); in 1828, Days Departed, or, Banwell Hill, a Lay of the Severn Sea; in 1832, St. John in Patmos, or The Last Apostle; to the second edition of which, in 1833, were added a revised selection of some of the minor poems of his early youth. His last poetical compositions were contained in a volume entitled Scenes and Shadows of Days departed, a Narrative; accompanied with Poems of Youth, and some other Poems of Melancholy and Fancy, in the journey of life from Youth to Age, 1837. This was reviewed in our vol. viii. P. 611; as the Narrative, which appeared first, interspersed with a few verses only in 1835, had been in vol. v. p. 180. He also printed several editions of a pleasing little volume of simple poetry, entitled, The Village Verse-Book, written to excite in the youthful mind the first feelings of religion and humanity, from familiar rural objects.

We are furnished with the following estimate of Mr. Bowles as a poet in the address delivered by Mr. Hallam at the recent anniversary of the Royal Society of Literature: — "The Sonnets of Bowles may be reckoned among the first-fruits of a new era in poetry. They came in an age when a common-place facility in rhyming on the one hand, and an almost nonsensical affectation in a new school on the other, had lowered the standard so much, that critical judges spoke of English poetry as of something nearly extinct, and disdained to read what they were sure to disapprove. In these Sonnets there was observed a grace of expression, a musical versification, and especially an air of melancholy tenderness, so congenial to the poetical temperament, which still, after sixty years of a more propitious period than that which immediately preceded their publication, preserves for their author a highly respectable position among our poets. The subsequent poems of Mr. Bowles did not belie the promise of his youth. They are indeed unequal; many passages, no doubt, are feeble, and some are affected; but there are characteristics of his poetry which render it dear to the young and susceptible, — not those characteristics only which have been just mentioned, but a sympathy with external nature, a quickness in perceiving, and a felicity in describing, what most charms the eye and the ear; his continual residence in the country assisting him in the one, his ardent love of music in the other."

It may also be gratifying to Mr. Bowles's friends to peruse at the present time the following more enthusiastic eulogy, from the pen of Professor Wilson, which appeared in Blackwood's Magazine for Sept. 1831: — "Breathes not the man with a more poetic temperament than Bowles. No wonder that 'his eyes love all they look on,' for they possess the sacred gift of beautifying creation by shedding over it the charm of melancholy. 'Pleasant but mournful to the soul is the memory of joys that are past,' is the text we should choose were we about to preach on his genius. No vain repinings does his spirit ever breathe over the still-receding past. But time-sanctified are all the shows that arise before his pensive imagination; and the common light of day, once gone, in his poetry seems to shine as if it had all been dying sunset or moonlight, or the new-born dawn. His human sensibilities are so fine as to be of themselves poetical; and his poetical aspirations so delicate as to be always human. Hence his Sonnets have been dear to poets — having in them 'more than meets the ear' — spiritual breathings that hang around the words like light around fair flowers; and hence, too, have they been beloved by all natural hearts, who having not 'the faculty divine,' have yet the 'vision' — that is, the power of seeing and of hearing the sights and the sounds which genius alone can awaken, bringing them from afar out of the dust and dimness of evanishment."

In 1807 Mr. Bowles edited The Works of Alexander Pope, in Verse and Prose, in 10 vols. 8vo. a task for which we find he received 300 (Lowndes's Bibliographer's Manual). Some of the statements and opinions advanced in the introductory memoir and critical dissertation, with respect to the true sources of poetry, were vehemently disputed. Mr. Campbell began the contest on behalf of Pope, Lord Byron also took the same view, as did a writer in the Quarterly Review. Mr. Bowles vigorously replied to all his opponents, and the warfare was continued perhaps as long as any previous literary controversy, not even concluding with Mr. Bowles's Final Appeal to the Literary Public relative to Pope, called forth by Mr. Roscoe's edition of the Poet in 1825; but which was followed by Lessons in Criticism to William Roscoe, &c. F.R.S. in answer to his Letter to the Rev. W. L. Bowles on the Character and Poetry of Pope, which we believe was really the last of the controversy, in the year 1826.

This seems to have given Mr. Bowles a taste for controversial writing, and his weapons were pungent enough; indeed, it was wonderful what severe things so benevolent and simple-minded a man would utter. He defended the place of his education from the attacks of Mr. Brougham in his Vindiciae Wykehamicae, 1818; and addressed Two Letters to the same personage, when Lord Chancellor, On the Position and Incomes of the Cathedral Clergy. He defended the conduct of Cathedral Choirs in a Letter addressed to Lord Mountcashell. He also wrote a Letter to Sir James Mackintosh, on the Increase of Crimes; and he had a sharp contest with the Rev. Edward Duke, F.S.A. in the pages of this Magazine on the primaeval antiquities of Wiltshire.

Having promised to contribute to Sir R. C. Hoare's splendid History of Wiltshire a topographical sketch of the parish in which he resided, but finding his materials too copious for such a purpose, (—indeed, Sir Richard never extended his labours into the district of North Wiltshire,) Mr. Bowles produced in 1828 a very pleasing volume, entitled, The Parochial History of Bremhill; containing a particular account, from authentic and unpublished documents, of the Cistercian Abbey of Stanley in that parish, with observations and reflections on the origin and establishment of Parochial Clergy, and other circumstances of general parochial interest, including Illustrations of the origin and designation of the stupendous monuments of antiquity in the neighbourhood, Avebury, Silbury, and Wansdike. 8vo. The Illustrations, &c. had been printed at Calne in the previous year in a pamphlet of 86 pages. Having thus embarked on the field of antiquities, he pursued his inquiries in Hermes Britannicus; or, a Dissertation on the Celtic deity Teutates, the Mercury of Caesar, in further proof and corroboration of the origin and designation of the great temple at Avebury in Wiltshire. These lucubrations, as may be supposed, were more ingenious than well-founded; for his poetical temperament naturally led him to adopt with eagerness many plausible but improbable hypotheses, not only in his archaeological researches, but also in his literary biographies.

It was shortly after the completion of the History of Bremhill that Mr. Bowles embarked on his Life of Thomas Ken, D.D. deprived Bishop of Bath and Wells, seen in connection with the spirit of the times, political and religious, particularly by those great events the Restoration of 1660 and Revolution of 1688, including the period of Fanatical Puritanism from 1640 to the Death of Cromwell. The first volume was published in 1830, and the second in 1831, the former "including some Account of the fortunes of Morley, Bishop of Winchester, his first patron, and the friend of Isaak Walton, brother-in-law of Bishop Ken." The first volume was dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the second to Dr. Herbert Hawes, Prebendary of Salisbury, both the author's schoolfellows at Winchester.

In 1835 appeared Mr. Bowles's Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey, in the county of Wilts; with Memorials of the Foundress Ela Countess of Salisbury and of the Earls of Salisbury of the houses of Salisbury and Longespe; in the arrangement and historical details of which he was assisted by Mr. John Gough Nichols, whose name, by Mr. Bowles's desire, was added to his own on the title-page. This work comprises the history of the early Earls of Salisbury, since detailed by Mr. Nichols in a revised memoir presented to the Archaeological Institute.

It remains for us to enumerate the publications issued by Mr. Bowles in the exercise of his professional duties. They were as follow:

A Discourse delivered to the Military Association for the town and district of Shaftesbury. 1790. 4to.

A Sermon preached at the Anniversary Meeting of the Sons of the Clergy. 1804. 4to.

Ten Plain Parochial Sermons. 1814. 8vo.

The Plain Bible and the Protestant Church in England, with Reflections on some important subjects of existing Religious Controversy. 1818. 8vo.

A Voice from St. Peter's and St. Paul's, being a few plain words addressed to both Houses of Parliament, on some late accusations against the Church Establishment, particularly those contained in Number LXXV, of the Edinburgh Review. 1823. 8vo.

Paulus Parochialis; or a plain and practical view of the object, arrangements, and connection of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, in a series of Sermons adapted to country congregations. 1826. 8vo.

Further Observations on the last Report of the Church Commissioners. 1837

St. Paul at Athens; Discourses on the Cartoons of Raphael, Salisbury, 1838. 8vo. Reviewed in our vol. ix. p. 165.

Pudens and Claudia of St. Paul. On the earliest introduction of the Christian Faith to these Islands through Claudia, certainly a British lady, supposed daughter of Caractacus; intended to be added to the Sermon on St. Paul at Athens, as an historical note to Sermons on the Cartoons. 1838. (Reviewed in vol. xii. p. 279.)

A final Defence of the Rights of Patronage in Deans and Chapters. 1839. (Reviewed in vol. xi. p. 170.)

Whilst resident at Bremhill, Mr. Bowles, was unremitting in his professional duties, zealous in the education of the poor, and manifested, in every respect, an exemplary, though happily by no means a rare, instance of the union of all Christian graces with the polish of taste and the amenities of literature. He took a warm interest in the welfare of the rural population, not only in his own parish, but in the surrounding neighbourhood; and on more than one occasion he exerted his influence as a county magistrate in cases which appeared to his benevolent heart especially to demand the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. Having in 184— resigned the living of Bremhill, he passed the remnant of his days in perfect retirement at Salisbury, where, through the increasing feebleness of his bodily and mental faculties, he became almost lost to the society of his friends, which he had previously cultivated with great warmth and cordial hospitality.

There are two or three engraved portraits of Mr. Bowles. One, by Mullar, engraved by Thomson, was published in the New Monthly Magazine for Nov. 1820. A full-length sketch of him appeared in Fraser's Magazine about fifteen years ago.