1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bernard Barton

Anonymous, "Living Poets: Bernard Barton" Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction 10 (1 September 1827) 146-48



The productions of Mr. Barton are doubtless familiar to most of our readers, and from them they have learnt much of the amiable turn of the poet's character. Mr. Barton's compositions afford indications of genuine feeling, of deep affection, of benevolence, sympathy, taste, and integrity; he seems to have an ear ever on the listen for the accents of charity, patriotism, and religion; where human anguish causes the tear to start, there he would fain be to soothe and alleviate. Such is the character of the poet, and in the following sketch such will be proved to be the character of the man.

Bernard Barton was born in the vicinity of London, on the 31st of January, 1784. His father was in trade in the metropolis, whither he had come from his native place, Carlisle. Bernard had the misfortune to lose his mother one month after his birth: her maiden name was Mary Done, and she was a native of Rockcliffe, Cumberland; she died at the early age of thirty-two. The following lines To a Profile evince the feelings with which our poet still cherishes her memory, or rather the recollection of what has been told him respecting her:—

I knew thee not! then wherefore gaze
Upon thy silent shadow there,
Which so imperfectly portrays
The form thy features used to wear?
Yet have I often looked at thee,
As if those lips could speak to me.

I knew then not! and thou couldst know,
At best, but little more of one
Whose pilgrimage on earth below
Commenced, just ere day own was done;
For few and fleeting days were thine,
To hope or fear for lot of mine.

Yet few and fleeting as they were,
Fancy and feeling picture this,
They prompted many a fervent prayer,
Witnessed, perchance, a parting kiss;
And might not kiss, and prayer, from thee,
At such a parted, profit me?

Whether they did or not, I owe
At least this tribute to thy worth;
Though little all I can bestow,
Yet fond affection gives it birth;
And prompts me, as thy shade I view,
To bless thee, whom I never knew!

His father died before Mr. Barton was seven years old; but his second marriage, which took place a few months before his death, provided an excellent parent for his children: to her, and to his two sisters, both several years older than himself, our author owed infinite obligations.

His education at one of the quaker seminaries was, of course, plain and circumscribed, being pretty much confined to useful, indeed necessary, branches of knowledge. But his father had been a man of greater natural and more cultivated intellect than many; he had read much, and on the abolition of slavery, in which he was one of Clarkson's earliest associates, he had, on several occasions, proved that he could write well, though, we believe, he was never avowedly an author. He had left no despicable collection of books, so that in his school vacations ample means were afforded to his son of indulging his taste for reading. A pleasing tribute to the memory of Mr. Barton's father will be found in his Napoleon and other Poems.

In the year 1806, Mr. Barton took up his residence in the pleasant town of Woodbridge, in Suffolk, and commenced business as a merchant; but an unlocked-for domestic affliction of the severest kind was about to visit him, and his wordly prospects were to receive an irrecoverable shock, — the loss of his amiable wife, before they had been married a twelvemonth, and soon after the birth of her child!

This excellent woman, to whom our poet was, for so short a time, united, gave rise to some of his best pieces, particularly to the poem beginning, The heaven was cloudless, and that entitled A Portrait, in Napoleon and other Poems. In this last piece the poet no less beautifully than truly observes,—

To sympathies, which soothe and bless
One life from day to day,
Which throw, with silent tenderness,
Fresh flowers across our way,
The heart must ever fondly cling;
But can the poet's sweetest string
Their loveliness display?
No — nor could Titian's self supply
Their living presence, once gone by.

The air, in which we breaths and live,
Eludes our touch and sight;
The fairest flowers their fragrance give
To stillness, and to night;
The softest sounds that music flings,
In passing, from her heaven-plumed wings,
Are trackless lit their flight!
And this life's sweetest bliss is known
To silent, grateful thought alone.

This mournful event, combined with discouraging prospects of a mercantile nature, induced our author to retire front commercial pursuits on his own behalf; and in 1810 he obtained a situation at a clerk in the Woodbridge bank, which he still holds.

Soon after Mr. Barton had entered upon his present situation, he began to "commit the sin of rhyme," and a new provincial paper being established about this time, it became the vehicle of his effusions: by degrees our young poet became bold enough to send a short piece now and then to a London paper, and at last, in 1812, ventured on an anonymous volume, entitled Metrical Effusions, 250 copies of which were printed by a bookseller of Woodbridge, and sold within the immediately circle of our author's acquaintance.

In 1818, Mr. Barton printed, by subscription, an elegant volume, in elephant octavo, of Poems by an Amateur, of which 150 only were struck off, and none ever sold at the shops. Encouraged by the very flattering manner in which these impressions of his poems were received by his friends, our author at last ventured to publish, in a small volume, Poems, by Bernard Barton, which was very favourably noticed by the literary journals, and, being afterwards made still more known by an article in the Edinburgh Review, has now reached a third edition. He afterwards published, in a handsome octavo volume, his Napoleon and other Poems; and subsequently a volume of poems, entitled A Widow's Tale, which appeared in an early month of the present year.

Such has been the literary career or Bernard Barton. If it has not left behind it the brilliant track of other poetical comets, it has been less erratic in its course; and if it have not been irradiated by the full blaze of a noonday sun, it has nevertheless been illumined by the sliver lustre of the queen of night; and his Parnassian vespers may be said to possess all the mild and soothing beauties of the evening star. If his muse have not always reached the sunward path of the soaring eagle, it is no extravagant praise to say, that she has often emulated the sublimity of his aerial flight. But the great charm thrown around the effusions of the Suffolk bard is that "lucid veil" of morality and religion which "covers but not conceals" — that "silver net-work," through which his poetic "apples of gold" shine with an adventitious beauty, which even the gorgeous ornaments so profusely lavished by a Byron or a Moore would fail to invest them.

There is a fame which owes its spell
To popular applause alone;
Which seems on lip and tongue to dwell,
And finds — in others' breath — its own:
For such the eager worldling sighs,
And this the fickle world supplies.

There is a nobler fame — which draws
Its purer essence from the heart;
Which only seeks that calm applause
The virtuous and the wise impart:
Such fame beyond the grave shall live:
But this the world can never give.
B. BARTON.

We have alluded to the amiable character of our poet; that his modesty is equal to his merit, the following extract, from a letter to a friend, will afford a pleasing evidence. Speaking of his literary career, he says, "it has been marked by an indulgence on the part of the public and the dispensers of literary fame, which I never anticipated. When I consider that only about three years have elapsed since I avowed myself an author, I am really surprised at the notice my trivial productions have received, and the numerous acquaintance to which they have, by correspondence, introduced me. Much of this, I dare say, is owing to my quakerism; and to that, unquestionably, I was indebted for the article in the Edinburgh Review, and the more recent passing notice in the Quarterly. Still, as I do not believe that any outre or adventitious source of attraction would have alone procured me the attention I had found, I would hope it may partly have arisen from their simple, unaffected appeal to those quiet, domestic, secluded feelings, which endear the still undercurrent of existence — in short, to being content to make the best I could of the homely and confined materials which my situation has given me access, without affecting scholarship, or aiming at romantic embellishment. There is nothing like simple truth and nature, after all; and he who is satisfied with simply and faithfully describing what he actually sees, feels, and thinks, may ways hope to appeal successfully to the unsophisticated heart."

We here conclude our notice of the bard of Woodbridge; and should this brief account excite the interest of our readers to become better acquainted with a "living author," we refer them to the whole-length portrait painted by himself, and held up to view in every page of his poems.