1849 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bernard Barton

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 31 (April 1849) 434-45.



Feb. 19. At Woodbridge, after a brief spasm in the heart, Bernard Barton, the Quaker Poet.

He was born near London, in 1784, came to Woodbridge in 1806, where he shortly after married, and was left a widower at the birth of his only child, who now survives him. In 1810 he entered as clerk in Messrs. Alexander's Bank, where he officiated almost to the day of his death. He had been for some months afflicted with laborious breathing, which his doctor knew to proceed from disease in the heart; though there seemed no reason to apprehend immediate danger. But those who have most reason to lament his loss, have also most reason to be thankful that he was spared a long illness of anguish and suspense, by so sudden and easy a dismissal. On the day of his death, he appeared as well as usual, and somewhat more cheerful; in the evening Mr. Brooke, a friend, was sitting conversing with him and his daughter, when Mr. Barton, it is supposed not feeling quite well, took a candle and went to his room, and soon after rang the hell for his servant, who, on entering the room, found him reclining in an easy chair panting for breath.

Miss Barton and Mr. Brooke ran upstairs, but his medical attendant arrived only in time to see him breathe his last.

To the world at large, Bernard Barton was known as the author of much pleasing, amiable, and pious poetry, animated by feeling and fancy, delighting in the homely subjects so generally pleasing to English people. He sang of what he loved: the domestic virtues in man, and the quiet pastoral scenes of Nature — and especially of his own county — its woods, and fields, and lanes, and homesteads, and the old sea that washed its shores; and the nearer to his own home the better he loved it. There was a true and pure vein of pastoral feeling in him. Thousands have read his books with innocent pleasure: none will ever take them up and be the worse for doing so. The first of these volumes was published in 1811.

To those of his own neighbourhood he was known besides as a most amiable, genial, charitable man — of pure, unaffected, unpretending piety — the good neighbour — the cheerful companion — the welcome guest — the hospitable host — tolerant of all men, sincerely attached to many. Few, high or low, but were glad to see him at his customary place in the bank: to exchange some words of kindly greeting with him — few but were glad to have him at their own homes; and there he was the same man, and had the same manners, to all: always equally frank, genial, and communicative.

Bernard Barton was a Liberal in politics, but accorded to every man freedom of opinion, however ultra it might be, either in support of his own notions or opposed to them. He was equally generous as regarded the religious principles of his fellow-men. Men of all creeds, parties, and conditions of life sat at his table, where his converse was a perpetual feast. Literary men were charmed by his abundant knowledge of the purest sources of literature, and a memory of giant capacity gave him a wonderful power of illustration. A lover of the arts, the walls of his residence bore undeniable testimony to his judgment and his taste. Indeed, his love for the productions of the easel was perhaps only exceeded by his worship of nature. The saunter of a summer's day in green lanes — a ride across the gray heaths of his favourite county — or a visit to some obscure and picturesque village, may be classed among his highest enjoy merits. Descriptions of many places and objects in Suffolk, with reminiscences of hours devoted to their visitation, lie scattered among his more lengthy poems, attesting not only his devotion to natural scenery, but that the "Local fire within him burned," equally with a poetic spirit less circumscribed.

Bernard Barton enjoyed a literary pension of 100 per annum, conferred upon him by her Majesty during time Premiership of Sir Robert Peel, by whom he was invited to dine at his town residence on the occasion. He was a prolific writer, his poems filling eight or nine volumes.

"Household Verses," a collection of his fugitive pieces, published in 1845, contains more of his personal feelings than perhaps any previous work of his pen; but an abundance of his poetry yet remains unpublished in the hands of friends, to whom he was in the habit of sending many of his effusions almost as soon as written. One of these we subjoin (extracted, with the present memoir, from the Bury Post), which it is believed has never previously gone beyond the album of the lady for whom it was written. It has a peculiar interest, from conveying his own views of his poetic range. He was also the author of "Lectures on Plants."

He was the brother of Maria Hack, the well-known authoress of several juvenile works of great merit, and his daughter is the authoress of "Bible Stories."

TO POETRY.
Thou hast not won me lofty fame,
Thou hast not gain'd me wealth or ease;
Yet grateful thanks thou well may'st claim,
For boons as rich as these.
To thee, and to the lonely hours
By thee beguil'd, by thee employed,
Life's thorny path owes frequent flowers,—
Though transiently enjoyed.

But, fleeting as their fragrance seems,
And fragile as their bloom may be,
E'en these, in fancy's wakeful dreams,
Are fraught with charms for me.
They bear me back to scenes long past,
By faithful memory's magic sway;
And by them hope, in hours o'ercast,
Relumes her trembling ray.

She tells of fairer flowers that ope
Beneath a bright and sunless sky;
Of many a feeling, thought, and hope,
Which cannot, will not die.
For though awhile, to gladden earth,
Their beauties and their dreams are given,
From purer spheres they date their birth,
And find their home in heaven.