1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Polwhele

John Jones of Exeter, "Memoirs of the Rev. Richard Polwhele" European Magazine 28 (November 1795) 329-33.



It seldom happens that the Lives of Literary Men afford much entertainment. The dates of publications are, generally, the epochas of such lives. In tracing our biographical sketches of living Authors, we are commonly obliged, from the nature of the subject, to be unamusing. For to connect in a regular series, what has been already scattered before the public eye (as a clue to the future Biographer) is all we profess to do. We endeavour, indeed, to stamp authority on our narrative, by recording with exactness the writer's birth, and a few such minutiae. It is true, the memoirs of many an Author might be rendered interesting, by the eduction of particulars from the shades of privacy. But, as we never wish to draw forth the frailties of a fellow-creature from their obscure abode, so we presume not to panegyrize those virtues which, exercised in retirement, are frequently observed through a fallacious medium, and thus dimly seen, are, of course, erroneously reported.

That the Rev. RICHARD POLWHELE, the subject of this Memoir, was born in the year 1760, the only son of Thomas Polwhele, Esq. of Polwhele, in Cornwall — that he was educated at the Grammar- School of Truro (near which town his patrimonial estate, Polwhele, is situated) — that in the year 1778, he was entered a Commoner of Christ's Church, Oxford, where he regularly kept his terms till he was admitted a Student in Civil Law — that he took Deacon's Orders in 1782, and after serving the cure of Lamorran in Cornwall for a short time, formed a matrimonial connection with a Miss Warren, with whom he removed to Kenton near Exeter — that he served the curacy of Kenton about ten years, within which time he composed the greater part of his numerous publications — that he schemed, and in part executed a History of Devonshire during his residence at Kenton — that, in consequence of his wife's decease, he removed with his children to Truro, and thence returned soon after to the neighbourhood of Exeter, resuming the cure of Kenton, and the proceeding with his History — that feeling, we suppose, the irksomeness of his widowed state, after the experience of conjugal happiness, he married Miss Tyrrel, a daughter of Robert Tyrrel — that he there undertook the cure of Exmouth, which he quitted on being presented by Bishop Buller to the vicarage of Manaccen in Cornwall, where he has been a short time settled. With this outline, nothing more, a friend of Mr. P. been so obliging as to furnish us, tho' not till after repeated solicitations. We have collected, however, from other quarters, a few circumstances that ought on no account to be omitted. But the above facts cannot be illustrated in a more pleasing manner than by a recurrence to Mr. P.'s own works.

We have observed, that Mr. P. was educated at Truro school. Before he left this seminary he composed and published, among other poems, The Fate of Lewellyn, and The Genius Of Karnbre; from the former of which we shall present our readers with a few extracts.

Where Tamar's winding waters flow,
And the green skirts of Cornwall lave,
While trees, that kiss the stream below,
Dark from the clefts their umbrage wave,
Lewellyn led a rustic life,
Tho' noble was his warriour-blood;
Far from the world's ignoble strife,
The swain had "leisure to be good."

* * * * *

Haunt of illustrious Chiefs, on high
Dunheved rais'd his cloud-capt head,
Now ruins strike the pensive eye,
Where many a Cornish Hero bled;
Where once proud battlements arose,
Now the huge fragments mould'ring fall;
Where mourn'd their doom the captive foes,
Now nods the ivy mantled wall.

* * * * *

Lewellyn, heedless where he went,
O'er trackless wilds his way pursued;
And still the moon red glimmerings sent,
The lurid welkin, blood-imbrued.
The phantoms of the troubled day
Fall crouding upon memory's breast,
Their sorrow-painted forms display,
Nor leave one little pause of rest.

It is remarkable, that in The Fate of Lewellyn, Mr. P.'s first production, the verse is much more melodious than in his English Orator, almost his last; but in The Legendary Tale Mr. P. was writing to the ear only. The first seven pieces mentioned in our list below, were all composed before Mr. P. left school; and the eighth piece was the production of Mr. P.'s leisure, hours at Kenton. From this it appears, that for a long interval Mr. P. had dropt his poetical pursuits. It is that, unallured by the Muses, Mr. P. had the resolution to adhere closely to his academic studies whilst an under-graduate at Oxford.

The beauties of his situation at Kenton awakened, we conceive, his dormant imagination, which first appeared in Sonnets, then in a poem entitled the English Orator, and afterwards in Translations from the Greek Poets. The following sonnets may not be unacceptable in this place.

TO HIS WIFE, WRITTEN IN 1784.
For thee, whose love I value more than life,
Whose charms the balm of heart-felt bliss inspire,
For thee I reassume my humble lyre;
Here, in this shade, far distant from the strife
Of scenes, where Fashion's pamper'd votaries rise
In Dissipation's revel, quench thy fire
O Muse! and blast the hallow'd name of WIFE,
'Mid the dark orgies of impure desire.
For thee, tho' ne'er my unambitious strain
May soothe th' unfeeling world, I yet awhile,
Tune the rude shell; and, haply, not in vain,
If (sweet reward of every anxious toil)
My simple song have still the power to gain
From LAURA but a fond approving smile.

TO THE SAME IN 1784.
Amid this scene of varied beauty plac'd,
Where Nature's wild simplicity, refin'd
To prospects that might charm e'en Mason's mind,
the fair art which lives in Courtnay's taste;
Let us, My LAURA, no vain wishes waste;
But, to the humbler lot of life resign'd,
Be ours, when Evening's pensive shadows haste
O'er the dark trees and paler lawn, to bind
Contentment's modest wreath around the brows
Of wedded love; that sighing oft, renews
The memory of its fondly storied vows;
Or, smiling on the day o'erpast, reviews
Each joy, the wife — the mother can impart,
To rivet in esteem the husband's heart!

These Sonnets seem to prove, that in Mr. P.'s bosom the domestic passion was not cold.

A passage in the fourth book of the English Orator hath been judged a pleasing illustration of a part of the Author's Life.

—In those avenues, that erst
O'erarch'd a BAGOT, (proud to embower such worth—
Such virtues in their venerable shade)
There, musing oft on future scenes, he form'd
The prospect of ideal good to flow
From his impassion'd preaching. Nor unmark'd
His decent fame, nor unreview'd his charge;
That, not at distance from his natal spot
Beyond the woody Tamar, Fancy trac'd;
And, as she spread the glowing tint, it seem'd
No fairy picture: For young Hope reliev'd
With golden rays each figure Fancy drew.
'Twas then, with honest independence flush'd,
Oft would he cry: "Ye visions, though so fair,
Perhaps ye promise vainly! for the mask
Of dark deceit, too often worn for you,
Shall never hide one generous feeling! Far
From this untainted bosom be the lure
That leads through Flattery's maze the cringing crew.
If my sincerer aims be frustrate all,
Whilst the corrupt, the versatile ascend
To rich preferment, thro' the path whose dust
I would disdain to tread — or, treading, shake
Indignant from my feet; if every wish
Urg'd by no mean ambition, should arise
Unsanction'd; then, not sorrowing, would I hail—
Then would I hail thy bowers, paternal seat!
Where I might yet retire, and eat my bread
In privacy and peace!" There might rest
My slumbering hopes of honour undisturb'd
By those who, prone to adulation, pour
With a deceitful smile the cold applause.
Happy (the hollow sycophant unknown
To those pure shades) as there, where dawning age
First weav'd its wayward fancies, I review
Through the dim veil of years, each mellow trace
Of childish joy and youthful bliss serene.
There, where the veteran umbrage of the beech
O'erhangs the cressed brook, that gurgling laves
Its wreathed roots, or the long-waving limes
Have darkened their bread shadows, I oft
Attune the pastoral song; or, pondering o'er
The ruthless times when Cromwell's host opprest
My loyal fathers, hail in many a tone
Pensive and deep, the visionary forms
Of ancestry, that with majestic air
Swim by the moonbeam thro' the glimmering trees.

To a third edition of the English Orator (entitled Poems, &c.) were added An Address to Pennant, an Ode on the Susceptibility of the Poetical Mind, An Epistle to a College Friend, &c. &c. From the Epistle we cannot withstand the temptation of extracting the concluding lines:

E'en now, tho' wedded love on pure esteem
Shed the sweet influence of its ardent beam;
Tho' praise from cold extinction guard the fire
That feebly glows, and trembles o'er my lyre;
Yet, as my former days in prospect rise,
I mourn full often with regretful sighs
The contrast of civilities that mark
The affected tribe who feel no friendly spark—
Who with contempt or apathy behold
The brightest talents unattached to gold!
Here too, within these walls I oft recur
To scenes that quick the sense of sorrow stir;
Where, watching at each gleam his vital fire,
I saw my little innocent expire;
While Care, intruding on my anguish, fills
My bosom with a store of meaner ills;
And Prudence, acting her mechanic part,
Deadens the fine emotions of the heart!

* * * * *

Ah! be it ours to fly so mean a tribe,
Nor the cold maxims of the world imbibe;
To bid no generous sentiment expire;
And yet, tho' distant, breathe Affection's fire:
And while beneath this low sequester'd thatch,
I scorn the false opinions that attach
Th' ignoble great to many a vain pursuit,
And mark of all their toils the bitter fruit;
Whist here, undazzled by a poet's fame,
I fondly cherish the connubial flame,
And rear my little offspring, fond to trace
The mother's features in the suckling's face;
And hold the sweet compassion doubly dear
That drops o'er woe the solitary tear;
O may my GREVILLE, since his spirits glide
With fervid impulse in a stronger tide,
The christian patriots pure ambition feel,
A bright example of unerring zeal.

With respect to the "Versions" from Theocritus, Bion, Moschus, and Tyrtaeus, we should not, at this distance of time from their publication (since it is now sufficiently clear that they are universally approved), omit a circumstance which may convey some notion of the Author's facility in composing; namely, that they were all finished within six months, together with the Dissertations and Notes. Two Volumes of Discourses were the product also of Mr. P.'s leisure-hours at Kenton. But we must not neglect to mention the Devon and Cornish Poets, of which Mr. P. was the Editor. They are a collection of Pieces written by Gentlemen chiefly resident, in Devonshire and Cornwall; most of whom, indeed, live in Exeter and its neighbourhood; and have the pleasure of enjoying, at stated meetings, at the Globe Inn, in Exeter, (a society truly enviable).

The feast of reason, and the flow of soul!

Of this society, Mr. P. was one of the first members.