1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Somervile

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:580-81.



The author of The Chase is still included in our editions of the poets, but is now rarely read or consulted. WILLIAM SOMERVILLE (1682-1742), was, as he tells Allan Ramsay, his brother-poet, "A squire well born, and six feet high." His estate lay in Warwickshire, and brought him in £1500 per annum. He was generous, but extravagant, and died in distressed circumstances, "plagued and threatened by wretches," says Shenstone, "that are low in every sense, and forced to drink himself into pains of the body to get rid of the pains of the mind." He died in 1742, and was buried at Wotton, near Henley-on-Arden. "The Chase' is in blank verse, and contains practical instructions and admonitions to sportsmen. The following is an animated sketch of a morning in autumn, preparatory to "throwing off the pack:"—

Now golden Autumn from her open lap
Her fragrant bounties showers; the fields are shorn;
Inwardly smiling, the proud farmer views
The rising pyramids that grace his yard,
And counts his large increase; his barns are stored,
And groaning staddles bend beneath their load.
All now is free as air, and the gay pack
In the rough bristly stubbles range unblamed;
No widow's tears o'erflow, no secret curse
Swells in the farmer's breast, which his pale lips
Trembling conceal, by his fierce landlord awed:
But courteous now he levels every fence,
Joins in the common cry, and halloos loud,
Charmed with the rattling thunder of the field.
Oh bear me, some kind power invisible!
To that extended lawn where the gay court
View the swift racers, stretching to the goal;
Games more renowned, and a far nobler train,
Than proud Elean fields could boast of old.
Oh! were a Theban lyre not wanting here,
And Pindar's voice, to do their merit right!
Or to those spacious plains, where the strained eye,
In the wide prospect lost, beholds at last
Sarum's proud spire, that o'er the hills ascends,
And pierces through the clouds. Or to thy downs,
Fair Cotswold, where the well-breathed beagle climbs,
With matchless speed, thy green aspiring brow,
And leaves the lagging multitude behind.

Hail, gentle Dawn! mild, blushing goddess, hail!
Rejoiced I see thy purple mantle spread
O'er half the skies; gems pave thy radiant way,
And orient pearls from every shrub depend.
Farewell, Cleora; here deep sunk in down,
Slumber secure, with happy dreams amused,
Till grateful streams shall tempt thee to receive
Thy early meal, or thy officious maids
The toilet placed shall urge thee to perform
The important work. Me other joys invite;
The horn sonorous calls, the pack awaked,
Their matins chant, nor brook thy long delay.
My courser hears their voice; see there with ears
And tail erect, neighing, he paws the ground;
Fierce rapture kindles in his reddening eyes,
And boils in every vein. As captive boys
Cowed by the ruling rod and haughty frowns
Of pedagogues severe, from their hard tasks,
If once dismissed, no limits can contain
The tumult raised within their little breasts,
But give a loose to all their frolic play;
So from their kennel rush the joyous pack;
A thousand wanton gaieties express
Their inward ecstacy, their pleasing sport
Once more indulged, and liberty restored.
The rising sun that o'er the horizon peeps,
As many colours from their glossy skins
Beaming reflects, as paint the various bow
When April showers descend. Delightful scene!
Where all around is gay; men, horses, dogs;
And in each smiling countenance appears
Fresh blooming health, and universal joy.

Somerville wrote a poetical address to Addison, on the latter purchasing an estate in Warwickshire. "In his verses to Addison," says Johnson, "the couplet which mentions Clio is written with the most exquisite delicacy of praise; it exhibits one of those happy strokes that are seldom attained." Addison, it is well-known, signed his papers in the "Spectator" with the letters forming the name of "Clio." The couplet which gratified Johnson so highly is as follows:—

When panting virtue her last efforts made,
You brought your Clio to the virgin's aid.

In welcoming Addison to the banks of Avon, Somerville does not scruple to place him above Shakspeare as a poet!

In heaven he sings; on earth your muse supplies
The important loss, and heals our weeping eyes:
Correctly great, she melts each flinty heart
With equal genius, but superior art.

Gross as this misjudgment is, it should be remembered that Voltaire also fell into the same. The cold marble of Cato was preferred to the living and breathing creations of the "myriad-minded" magician.