1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Haynes Bayly

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:471.



MR. BAYLY was, next to Moore, the most successful song-writer of our age. His most attractive lyrics turned on the distresses of the victims of the affections in elegant life; but his muse had also her airy and cheerful strain, and he composed a surprising number of light dramas, some of which show a likelihood of maintaining their ground on the stage. He was born in 1797, the son of an eminent and wealthy solicitor, near Bath. Destined for the church, he studied for some time at Oxford, but could not settle to so sober a profession, and ultimately came to depend chiefly on literature for support. His latter years were marked by misfortunes, under the pressure of which he addressed some beautiful verses to his wife:—

Oh! hadst thou never shared my fate,
More dark that fate would prove,
My heart were truly desolate
Without thy soothing love.
But thou hast suffered for my sake,
Whilst this relief I found,
Like fearless lips that strive to take
The poison from a wound.

My fond affection thou hast seen,
Then judge of my regret,
To think more happy thou hadst been
If we had never met!
And has that thought been shared by thee?
Ah, no! that smiling cheek
Proves more unchanging love for me
Than laboured words could speak.

But there are true hearts which the sight
Of sorrow summons forth;
Though known in days of past delight,
We knew not half their worth.
How unlike some who have professed
So much in friendship's name,
Yet calmly pause to think how best
They may evade her claim.

But ah! from them to thee I turn,
They'd make me loathe mankind,
Far better lessons I may learn
From thy more holy mind.
The love that gives a charm to home,
I feel they cannot take:
We'll pray for happier years to come,
For one another's sake.

This amiable poet died of jaundice in 1839. His songs contain the pathos of a section of our social system; but they are more calculated to attract attention by their refined and happy diction, than to melt us by their feeling. Several of them, as "She wore a wreath of roses," "Oh no, we never mention her," and "We met — 'twas in a crowd," attained to an extraordinary popularity. Of his livelier ditties, "I'd be a butterfly" was the most felicitous: it expresses the Horatian philosophy in terms exceeding even Horace in gaiety.

What though you tell me each gay little rover
Shrinks from the breath of the first autumn day:
Sorely 'tis better, when summer is over,
To die when all fair things are fading away.
Some in life's winter may toil to discover
Means of procuring a weary delay—
I'd be a butterfly, living a rover,
Dying when fair things are fading away!