1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. William Beattie

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:354.



In 1833 appeared two cantos of a descriptive poem, The Heliotrope, or Pilgrim in Pursuit of Health, being the record of a poetical wanderer in Liguria, Hetruria, Campania, and Calabria. The style and versification of Byron's Childe Harold are evidently copied by the author; but he has a native taste and elegance, and a purer system of philosophy than the noble poet. Many of the stanzas are musical and picturesque, presenting Claude-like landscapes of the glorious classic scenes through which the pilgrim passed. We subjoin the description of Pompeii — that interesting city of the dead:—

Pompeia! disentombed Pompeia! Here
Before me in her pall of ashes spread—
Wrenched from the gulf of ages — she whose bier
Was the unbowelled mountain, lifts her head
Sad but not silent! Thrilling in my ear
She tells her tale of horror, till the dread
And sudden drama mustering through the air,
Seems to rehearse the day of her despair!

Joyful she feasted 'neath her olive tree,
Then rose to "dance and play:" and if a cloud
O'ershadowed her thronged circus, who could see
The impending deluge brooding in its shroud?
On went the games! mirth and festivity
Increased — prevailed: till rendingly and lend
The earth and sky with consentaneous roar
Denounced her doom — that time should be no more.

Shook to its centre, the convulsive soil
Closed round the flying: Sarno's tortured tide
O'erleapt its channel — eager for its spoil!
Thick darkness fell, and, wasting fast and wide
Wrath opened her dread floodgates! Brief the toil
And terror of resistance: art supplied
No subterfuge! The pillared crypt, and cave
That proffered shelter, proved a living grave!

Within the circus, tribunal, and shrine,
Shrieking they perished: there the usurer sank
Grasping his gold; the bacchant at his wine;
The gambler at his dice! age, grade, nor rank,
Nor all they loved, revered, or deemed divine,
Found help or rescue; unredeemed they drank
Their cup of horror to the dregs, and fell
With Heaven's avenging thunders for their knell.

Their city a vast sepulchre — their hearth
A charnel-house! The beautiful and brave,
Whose high achievements or whose charms gave birth
To songs and civic wreath, unheeded crave
A pause 'twixt life and death: no hand on earth,
No voice from heaven, replied to close the grave
Yawning around them. Still the burning shower
Rained down upon them with unslackening power.

'Tis an old tale! Yet gazing thus, it scorns
But yesterday the circling wine-cup went
Its joyous round! Here still the pilgrim deems
New guests arrive — the reveller sits intent
At his carousal, quaffing to the themes
Of Thraciau Orpheus: lo, the cups indent
The conscious marble, and the amphorae still
Seem redolent of old Falerno's hill!

It seems but yesterday! Half sculptured there,
On the paved Forum wedged, the marble shaft
Waits but the workman to resume his care,
And reed it by the cunning of his craft.
The chips, struck from his chisel, fresh and fair,
Lie scattered round; the acanthus leaves ingraft
The half-wrought capital; and Isis' shrine
Retains untouched her implements divine.

The streets are hollowed by the rolling car
In sinuous furrows; there the lava stone
Retains, deep grooved, the frequent axle's scar.
Here oft the pageant passed, and triumph shone;
Here warriors bore the glittering spoils of war,
And met the full fair city, smiling on
With wreath and paean! — gay as those who drink
The draught of pleasure on destruction's brink.

The frescoed wall, the rich mosaic floor,
Elaborate, fresh, and garlanded with flowers
Of ancient fable: — crypt, and lintelled door
Writ with the name of their last tenant-towers
That still in strength aspire, as when they bore
Their Roman standard — from the whelming showers
That formed their grave — return, like spectres risen,
To solve the mysteries of their fearful prison!

The author of the Heliotrope is DR. W. BEATTIE, a London physician of worth, talent, and benevolence, who is also author of Scotland Illustrated, Switzerland Illustrated, Residence in the Court of Germany, &c.