1865 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Hurdis

Mark Anthony Lower, in The Worthies of Sussex: Biographical Sketches (1865) 161-71.



Every observer of genealogies must have noticed the fact that nothing tends more to the diffusion of families over the country than ecclesiastical preferment. Younger sons entering the church are by this cause often removed from the ancient habitat of their sires into other and distant counties, and so become propagators of exotic names and families. This was the case with the ancestors of our Sussex poet James Hurdis, a name unknown to the county until the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Thomas Hurdis became vicar of Ringmer. His forefathers, of gentle extraction, were settled at Atherston-upon-Stour in the county of Warwick, and they lie buried in the church there, and at Stratford-upon-Avon in the same shire. His settlement at Ringmer was probably owing to his connection with the gentle family of Whalley of that place, his uncle James Hurdis of London having married Mary Samborne, who after his death became the wife of Peter Whalley, gentleman. The vicar of Ringmer had a numerous family, one of whom Thomas Hurdis, D.D., originally student of Merton College, Oxon, so advanced himself in the clerical profession that he became, probably, the greatest pluralist of the day. He was Canon of Windsor, Residentiary of Chichester, Prebendary of York, Vicar of Amport in Hampshire, and of Wantage in Berkshire, Custos of St. Mary's Hospital, Chichester, Sequestrator of Bishopston, Vicar of Seaford, and in addition to all this, private secretary to the Duke of Newcastle, to whose powerful influence he doubtless owed his appointment to these varied and incompatible offices. His younger brother James held the post of collector of Customs at Newhaven. The latter married first a daughter of Cornelius Humphrey, a barrister well-known as Counsellor Humphrey, but that lady dying childless, he remarried in 1759 Jane Artlett, the daughter of a yeoman at Tarring-Peverell, the mother of the poet.

James Hurdis, their third child, was born at Bishopston in 1763. Some years later the father died, leaving a widow with seven children but slenderly provided for. She was however enabled to send young James to the prebendal school at Chichester, where, under the tuition, first of the Rev. Richard Tireman, and afterwards of the Rev. John Atkinson, he made satisfactory progress in classical learning. Here he had the advantage of the protection of his uncle the Rev. Canon Hurdis, the well-beneficed clergyman before mentioned. While at school, his constitution being feeble and his health delicate, he took little pleasure in the robust pastimes of youth, but passed his leisure hours in reading works of fancy, and in the composition of poems. Among these youthful effusions was a tragedy in five acts, entitled Panthea, founded on the story in Xenophon's Cyropaedia. Music also had great attractions for him from his infancy, and as he advanced in life he became a proficient upon almost every musical instrument. He was particularly fond of organs, and had nearly completed the building of a small one when he quitted school for college [author's note: Among the most cherished of my household gods, is an organ of four stops, which was built for Hurdis when curate of Burwash. It was presented to me in 1856, by my friend the late James Henry Hurdis, Esq., the poet's eldest son].

In 1780 he was entered a commoner of St. Mary Hall, Oxford; and at the election in 1782 was chosen a demy of Magdalen College. His attachment to literature grew with his growth, and strengthened with his strength, while the sphere of his ideas was much enlarged by university advantages. Here he enjoyed the friendship and patronage of the Rev. Geo. Home, D.D., afterwards the celebrated Bishop of Norwich, and of the Rev. Dr. Routh of Magdalen, who survived him almost sixty years. At the commencement of every vacation he returned to his mother at Bishopston, and devoted this interval of relaxation from his own studies to the assiduous instruction of his four younger sisters in those branches of literature which he thought might be most beneficial to them. To his application and industry they owed all that they ever acquired. Of his eminent success in this work of fraternal love we shall hereafter show a remarkable instance.

About the year 1784 Hurdis resided for some time at Stanmer, as tutor to the youngest son of Lord Pelham, afterwards Earl of Chichester. Mr. George Pelham did great credit to his instructor's exertions, and was subsequently known as Bishop of Bristol, then of Exeter, and finally of Lincoln.

He obtained his degree of Bachelor of Arts in May, 1785, and was shortly afterwards appointed curate of Burwash, by the rector of that parish, the Rev. John Courtail, Archdeacon of Lewes. Here upon a very slender stipend he subsisted for about six years, and here he wrote his "Village Curate," a poem of considerable length, in which he sets forth in simple and pleasing cadences the daily life, trials, and pleasures of a rural pastor. The following lines, a fair specimen of the poem, contain a description of his residence at Burwash:

In yonder mansion, rear'd by rustic hands,
And deck'd with no superfluous ornament,
Where use was all the architect proposed,
And all the master wish'd, which, scarce a mile
From village tumult, to the morning sun
Turns its warm aspect, yet with blossoms hung
Of cherry and of peach, lives happy still
The reverend Alcanor. On a hill,
Half-way between the summit and a brook
Which idly wanders at its foot, it stands,
And looks into a valley wood-besprent
That winds along below. Beyond the brook
Where the high coppice intercepts it not,
Or social elms, or with his ample waist
The venerable oak, up the steep side
Of you aspiring hill full opposite,
Luxuriant pasture spreads before his eye
Eternal verdure; save that here and there
A spot of deeper green shews where the swain
Expects a nobler harvest, or high poles
Mark the retreat of the scarce-budded hop,
Hereafter to be eminently fair,
And hide the naked staff that train'd him up
With golden flowers. On the hill top behold
The village steeple, rising from the midst
Of many a rustic edifice; 'tis all
The pastor's care.

Hurdis took his master's degree in 1787, having in the preceding year been elected probationerfellow of Magdalen College. Ever dutiful and affectionate to his family, he now undertook the support of three of his sisters, and took them to reside with him at Burwash.

The "Village Curate" was published anonymously in the year 1788, and a second edition was called for the following year. This work led to an acquaintance with Cowper, which at length ripened into friendship. Cowper, addressing him on the subject, says: "I have always entertained, and have occasionally avowed, a great degree of respect for the abilities of the unknown author of the 'Village Curate,' unknown at that time, but now well known, and not to me only, but to many. You will perceive, therefore, that you are no longer an author incognito: the writer, indeed, of many passages which have fallen from your pen could not long continue so. Let genius, true genius, conceal itself where it may, we may say of it as the young man in Terence of his beautiful mistress, 'Diu latere non potest.'"

"Adriano, or the first of June" was his next production. It was followed soon after by "Panthea," "Elmer and Ophelia," and the "Orphan Twins." He also published "A Critical Dissertation on the true Meaning of a Hebrew word found in Genesis i. 21."

In 1791, through the interest of Lord IPeiham, afterwards first Earl of Chichester, he was appointed by the Bishop of Chichester to the small vicarage of Bishopston, his native parish. The same year he wrote a tragedy entitled "Sir Thomas More," and "Select critical remarks upon the English version of the first ten chapters of Genesis."

In the following year the pursuits of literature, to which the seclusion of a village parsonage was highly favourable, were rudely interrupted by a painful incident, the death of his favourite sister Catharine, to whom in his poems he had frequently referred under the pseudonyms of Margaret and Isabel. One of Hurdis's letters to Cowper contains an account of her illness and death, and another gives a summary of her character and accomplishments. As these two letters put in a clear light the amiable and affectionate character of the poet himself, as well as the virtues of a lady whose name but for these notices would be lost to posterity, they are here subjoined:

"Dear Sir,

Could I have found a moment free from anxiety, I should certainly have spent it in writing to you. But my mind has been totally absorbed in attention to my poor little girl, whom I have at last been unable to save. I watched by her nine and thirty nights: I neglected nothing which might have proved a source of relief: but all my endeavours were ineffectual, and I have been obliged to seek her a grave, where I may rest beside her. How painful an interval has passed since I last wrote to you, you will be able to judge from your own feelings. My eye has been fixed day and night upon a little sufferer, who was better to me than the best of daughters; and I have marked the slow but certain progress of death, prevailing over a life which was ever dearer to me than my own. If expressions of impatience have escaped me while contemplating a prospect so distressing, I hope God will forgive me. It has been his pleasure to wound me where I was most sensible, and my reason has not always been able to support it. I have seen my amiable and affectionate Catharine gradually put to death by a disease at once painful and lingering. I have lived to behold the hour in which her existence was grievous to me: nay I have lived to look upon her in the hour of death without shedding tears at her dissolution. Indeed her departure was a relief to me. She had suffered extremely, and for nearly a week before her death had only short intervals of sense, in which she was unable to articulate her wants. In the evening on which she died, her senses returned, and she acknowledged us all, rewarding us with many thanks for our attention to her. She was then seized with a difficulty of breathing and slight convulsions, which did not appear very alarming to me, because I had seen her recover from the same symptoms before. I was the only person in the room when these began to abate and she seemed to fall into a deep sleep, breathing without difficulty. I sat beside her, looking in her face; and the ease with which she slept soon inclined me to nod. I almost fell from my chair more than once; and being apprehensive that I might disturb her if I persisted, I went into the next room, to lie down upon a mattrass which was on the floor. I met my eldest sister at the door, and desired her to give me notice when I was wanted. I had scarce laid myself down, when she came and informed me that her breath had ceased. I returned immediately into the room, and was witness to two slight efforts made by nature to recover the action of the lungs which not being attended with success she gave up the contest without deranging a single feature. The eyelid was still closed, the hand reclined upon the side of the easy chair into which she had partly been raised from the bed, and not one attitude of the composure in which I left her had been disturbed. If I thought myself forsaken by my Maker in the former state of my calamity, here I became sensible of his goodness. I saw in the strongest light the peculiar blessing of a peaceful end, and I saw that end bestowed upon a little girl, for whom I should more earnestly have petitioned it than for myself.

"Thus, Sir, was I deprived of a gem, which has literally hung about my neck all the days of my life, and never lost its lustre. Then did I bid adieu to a little motherly comforter who has ever been as a part of myself, and without whom I know not how I shall exist. I pray that my days, if they are not few may at least be speedy, that I may make haste to meet her in the grave. I have promised her that she shall sleep beside me and have appointed her a place at my right hand, a situation she always loved and from which, God knows I never wished her to depart. Yes, my gentle Isabel, my invaluable Margaret, thou who hast been always in my eye:

Attentively regarding all I said
And soothing all my pains with sweet concern,

thou shalt rest beside me in the grave, as well as in the cradle. I will come to thee, though thou art not able to return to me. I will endeavour to deserve as well as thou hast done, and trust to God's goodness that I shall find thee again. And I pray Him most devoutly, that, wherever thou art, the sense of my unhappiness may not reach thee.

"When I write again, I will give some account of my little girl's natural endowments and of her attainments."...

"I promised to give you some account of my little girl's natural endowments and of her attainments. As to the former you will perhaps be surprised to learn, that she was the plainest of all my family. Her figure was good, her action was graceful, but in her countenance there were many defects. She was sensible of it, and would never give me her profile. I was therefore driven to the painful necessity of stealing it after she was dead. But for her carelessness without, Nature had made ample amends by her liberality within. Her disposition was so friendly, humane, and gentle, that it was impossible to know her and not esteem her. She was always attended by good humour, compassion, and pleasantry. Her genius was capable of the greatest undertakings and she never lost an hour in improving it. Reading was her delight from childhood, and you will scarce believe that at four and twenty she could have obtained the knowledge of which I know she was possessed. Of historical, biographical, and moral writers she read every thing she laid her hands on, and retained facts and dates with the nicest accuracy. In any chronological doubt, in any family anecdote, in any connection formed among great men, whether princes or scholars, I know of no person who was better qualified to pass an immediate decision. In her earlier years she was extremely fond of figures. I observed the propensity, and encouraged it. She followed me with the greatest ease through the most arduous rules of arithmetic, through fractions, through decimals, through algebra, and the first rudiments of geometry. I then turned her aside to astronomical calculations; and when she was taken ill, she was upon the point of framing an almanack for the year 1793 upon a new construction, which was to be presented to Mr. Cowper, and to be called 'the poet's almanack.' The new and full moons, as well as the eclipses were all to have been calculated, and the latter to be delineated by herself. In matters of this kind she had long since been expert, and would be certain of predicting any eclipse, however distant, without an error of time of more than two minutes. Her facility in music justly entitled her to the name which I gave her, the leader of my band. It was her office to play the organ while her two sisters sung, and I accompanied on the violoncello. I have often envied her the ease with which she acquired whatever she would. I practised much more than she did, but found she could always overtake me. If she chose she could be rapid; but she wished rather to be scientific and expressive. She once entertained a desire to engage in the pursuit of languages. I told her I did not think it the province of a woman. It could never be useful or ornamental, for the graces of the linguist are masculine. At my request she refrained, but not altogether; for some time after I had become a student of Hebrew, I found she had followed me through all my grammatical memoranda, and was able to read and to construe the original scriptures as well as myself. She was at the same time the most expert botanist, save one, of all my sisters, and a considerable proficient in physic.

"I should weary you with my story, were I to detail every little accomplishment and every good quality for which I esteemed her. Indeed I believe that to some parts of her character I am a stranger. She was extremely shy, and hid everything she could in her last illness, and I often read to her sermons at her request. I was surprised to find that few were unknown to her. I asked one of her sisters the reason. She told me, it had always been her custom when left alone on a Sunday (as she often was,) to read the Psalms, the Lessons, and two or three Sermons. This, Sir, was a voluntary exercise. I was not the occasion of it; for I think it was an employment of more gravity than youth can generally relish. I deem it the consequence of a wellgrounded assurance of the truth of Christianity, which I have never failed to inculcate, by recommending such writers as have been most lively and entertaining in the support of it.

"I will say no more. She is gone, and I must forget her. I am happy that I have been her friend, and that she has met with no calamity like this in passing through life. Death has not visited us before since the death of my father. Had she buried a sister I know not who could have comforted her: had she lived to see me in danger, I believe she would have died of apprehension. It is all well. She told me that she was satisfied, and why should I complain? She wished she could have carried me away with her to heaven; but comforted herself, that if we parted we could none of us stay long behind her."

Not long after the death of his sister, Hurdis received a kind and sympathetic letter from Cowper who was on a visit to his friend Hayley, and at whose instance he wrote, inviting him to pass some time at his delightful retreat at Eartham. "I have every motive," writes Cowper, "to wish your consent. Both your benefit and my own, which I believe would be abundantly answered by your coming, ought to make me eloquent in such a cause. Here you will find silence and retirement in perfection when you would seek them; and here such company as I have no doubt would suit you; all cheerful but not noisy; and all alike disposed to love you. You and I seem to have a fair opportunity of meeting; it were a pity we should be in the same county and not come together. I am here till the seventeenth of September, an interval that will afford you time to make the necessary arrangements, and to gratify me at least with an interview that I have long desired. Let me hear from you soon, that I may have double pleasure-the pleasure of expecting as well as that of seeing you."

To Eartham accordingly Hurdis went; and the three poets met. Cowper in a letter to his cousin Lady Hesketh, dated Eartham, Sept. 9th, 1792, says in reference to Hurdis's visit: "Johnny I know has told you that Mr. Hurdis is here. Distressed by the loss of his sister, he has renounced the place where she died for ever, and is about to enter on a new course of life at Oxford. You would admire him much. He is gentle in his manners, and delicate in his person, resembling our poor friend Unwin, both in face and figure, more than any one I have seen. But he has not — at least he has not at present — his vivacity."

In the course of this year Hurdis published "Cursory Remarks upon the Arrangement of the Plays of Shakspeare," which had the approbation of Cowper. The following letter was addressed by him about this time to his friend Dr. Routh:

"Bishopstone, Sept. 28th, 1792.

DEAR SIR, — Having been expelled by calamity from my little Paradise at Burwash, the world is all before me, and I am once more to choose my place of rest. I look towards Oxford, and as soon as I have concluded this letter shall set out upon a tour thro' Winchester and Salisbury to Magd. College. I purpose to hire a small tenement in the neighbourhood of the University, as well as to be possessed of rooms in College. I wish at the same time to keep a vehicle of some kind for the use of my sisters, who will be with me. All these expenses I am apprehensive may outweigh my income. I shall therefore be obliged to you, if you have an opportunity to recommend me to some pupils while I stay.

As soon as I reach Oxford 1 will make it my business to call upon you. A reply to this letter, were you to dispatch one, would not know where to find me.

Your obedient humble servant,

J. HURDIS.

[Author's note: For this and the subsequent letters of Hurdis, I am indebted to the kindness of the Rev. J. R. Bloxham, D.D., of Beeding Priory, late Fellow of Magdalen, who possesses the originals.]

In April 1793 he went to Oxford, and with two of his sisters resided at Temple-Cowley. A few months later he was elected Professor of Poetry in the university. On this election he published a specimen of some intended Lectures on English Poetry, and wrote his "Tears of Affection," a poem of which his departed sister was the theme.

The following letters to Dr. Routh of Magdalen were written about this time:

"DEAR SIR, — Having failed in my applications to two of the most exact individuals of our House for a piece of necessary information which I thought they could afford me, I am constrained at last to beg the favour of you to communicate to me the intelligence I wish for. Neither Hatton nor Best is able to furnish me with a copy of the scheme of our terminal examinations as they succeed one another during the 16 terms previous to the degree of B.A. If you are in possession of a copy of that scheme, I shall be extremely obliged to you to favour me with a transcript of it.

"Your curiosity may be alive to know for what purpose I make this troublesome request. Though I have hitherto kept my intentions entirely to myself, I will disclose them to you, Sir, but with hope that you divulge them to no one. I have since my retreat into the country occasionally amused myself in putting together a few straggling thoughts in vindication of our Alma Mater and of Magd. College in particular from the malevolent aspersions of Mr. Gibbon. These are now ready for the Printer, wanting only the information in question, which I think will sufficiently refute his assertion that we have no public examinations. I choose to be anonymous and incog. because I wish to speak my sentiments without reserve, which I could not well do if I appeared openly, for Gibbon was the particular friend of Lord Sheffield, and Lord Sheffield is married to a lady with whom I am intimately acquainted, and for whom I entertain the highest respect. Should it be traced to my quarters, notwithstanding my secrecy, I have I think a sufficient apology, when I plead that I felt myself insulted in a triple capacity of an Oxonian, a Professor, and a Monk of Magdalen. I have said something of the Lectures given by the Professors, but fear I am not sufficiently informed upon that head.

"It is time for church, and I reluctantly subscribe myself, with best respects to Miss Routh, Your obliged humble servant,

J. HURDIS."

"Bishopstone, Dec. 2nd, 1796.

DEAR SIR, — I have at length sent you a copy of my long promised Vindication [of the College against Gibbon]. If you can find no other merit in it, I am sure you will acknowledge it to be an indubitable specimen of industry, when I acquaint you that I am not only the author, but the compositor and printer, and that this copy comes attended by 500 more to Oxford, though I have not been in possession of my press three weeks. I have commissioned Fletcher and Hanwell to be my retailers, and in the first Oxford paper which follows the receipt of this letter, you may expect to see this little book advertised. Secrecy I have strictly enjoined to them, and I think I have taken effectual pains in the work itself to avoid saying anything offensive to the noble Editor of the memoirs in person. My only motive for being anonymous was to avoid giving him public offence, for the sake of his Lady, though as an Editor, I think him entitled to some share of reprehension.

With best respects to Miss Routh, I am, Dear Sir,

Your obedient and obliged humble servant,

J. HURDIS."

The next two letters refer to some quarrel of Hurdis with his College, which I am unable to explain.

DR. ROUTH TO MR. HURDIS.

"DEAR SIR, — I am truly sorry to address you on such an occasion but your letter to the Vice-President having given great offence to the Society, I have been applied to, to call a meeting of the Officers according to the direction of the Founder, when unhappy differences arise between the respective members. On our meeting we were all of opinion that there were three particulars in it highly reprehensible; and which we were obliged to consider as offending against a statute which I have thought proper to subjoin to this letter. They are these; your reflections on the conduct of one of the Delegates of Estates; your assertion that the Doctorate will not become some persons whom you shall be sorry to compel to take it, and the ridicule you mean to offer to the office of Vice-President by calling it a 'sublime one.' The mere recital of the two latter points, and reference to the former, will we trust convince you of the propriety of apologizing for the offence you have given.

I am, repeating my concern for the occasion of this letter, Dear Sir,

Your faithful servant,

M. J. ROUTH."

"Horsham, Sussex, Jan. 12th, 1797.

DEAR SIR, — In my last letter I gave you my first sentiments which followed the receipt of your official communication. Permit me now to express my maturer thoughts on that occasion. A most extraordinary transaction, affording matter for wonder and surprise, I shall deem it, and hope it has no precedent. My resolution is, having unawares kindled the brand (though I did not tie it to the fox, nor was I the Nazarite who sent it into the corn), at once to quench the conflagration. If it was not beneath the dignity of Magdalen College to interfere in my private differences, and to take cognizance of the contents of a private letter, neither can it be beneath my dignity to make the apology demanded of me. I know it will avail nothing for an individual, let him deem himself in the wrong or not, to contend with a body corporate. I therefore waive all consideration of the merits of the affair, and hope, Sir, you will give me leave to meet those gentlemen, and those only, who composed the meeting which passed this sentence upon me, at your house on Monday next at 10 o'clock in the morning, that I may make the apology in as public a manner as it has been required. I claim, Sir, the Roman privilege of having my accusers face to face, 'and of having licence to answer for myself concerning the crime laid against me.' Of the latter indulgence however I have but little intention of availing myself, because I am satisfied that, according to the vulgar proverb, the least said is the soonest mended. I hate debate, I am not qualified to prevail in it, and a multiplicity of words may only expose me to fresh misunderstandings. I mean to apologize, if possible, without discussion. I am, Sir, with all due respect, your obedient humble servant,

J. HURDIS.

"I believe and trust I shall be able to reach Cowley by Sunday noon."

"Fulham, July 19th, 1799.

DEAR SIR, — After having been seventeen years a member of Magdalen College, I have this morning finally bid adieu to it at the altar. I have not left it without some sensation of reluctance, like that of parting from a friend that has been long dear to me — 'domus mihi a teneris usque charissima.' I hope I shall never be so ungrateful as to forget, or not freely acknowledge my obligations to the society in general; though you must forgive me for a little reserve, when I call to mind the vindictive behaviour of a few, which was surely more than a counterbalance to any favour I had previously received from them.

"I am this moment setting off with my little woman and my sister Eliza, on a Tour into Yorkshire and Durham, from which we shall not return for some weeks. One purpose of our journey is to overlook and to have valued, the estate which belongs to the Professorship of Poetry.

"The honorarium, I must again repeat, I beg may be presented to the fund for the improvement of small livings.

"My little woman and my sister join me in every good wish to yourself and Miss Routh, and I am, Dear Sir, your affectionate and obliged friend,

JAMES HURDIS.

"When our tour is ended, we become stationary for the summer at Bishopstone."

Hurdis became B.D. in 1794, and D.D. in 1797. In 1799 he married Harriett Taylor, daughter of Hughes Minet, of Austin-Friars and of Fulham, Esq., a descendant of a Huguenot family who left France, in consequence of religious persecution, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. This is the "little woman" above referred to.

In 1800 he published his "Favourite Village," the scene being Bishopston, his native place and afterwards his parochial cure. He also published "Twelve Dissertations on Psalm and Prophecy."

But this life of intellectual activity was destined to be a short one. On Saturday December 19, 1801, he went to Buckland in Berkshire, and on the following day performed the whole of divine service in the church of that place. On Monday morning he was attacked with a kind of ague-fit. On Tuesday he was unable to rise from his bed in consequence of great debility; nor could he open his eyes. Medical help proved unavailing, and on Wednesday evening, 23rd December, he expired, apparently in a sound sleep, in the house of his affectionate friend the Rev. John Rathbone, D.D. By his own desire his body was conveyed to Bishopston, and placed in the family vault by the side of that of his beloved Catharine. He was in his thirty-eighth year, and left a widow and two sons, James-Henry, born 1800, and John-Louis, born 1801. Harriet, a posthumous daughter, was born in 1802.

The following characteristics of Hurdis are given in his sister's "account." "He was tall, but well-proportioned: his countenance serene and lively: of a fair complexion with flaxen hair. His disposition was meek, affectionate, benevolent, and cheerful; yet occasionally irritable and impatient. With his intimate friends he was affable, polite, and familiar; but in mixed company generally reserved . His piety was fervent and unaffected." His portrait engraved by his eldest son from a drawing by Sharples (aet. 21) gives to his face a remarkably delicate and almost feminine character. His epitaph at Bishopston was written by his friend Hayley.

Hurdis's poetry, though of a pleasing character, does not come up to modern standards of criticism. His style was evidently based upon that of Cowper, and he was as evidently a great admirer of Thomson, whom he occasionally approaches in felicity of description. Amidst much that is prose-like and unattractive, there are passages of startling beauty, one of which from the "Village Curate" (and "decies repetita placebit") I will quote:

It wins my admiration
To 'view the structure of that little work,
A bird's nest. — Mark it well, within, without;
No tool had he that wrought, no knife to cut,
No nail to fix, no bodkin to insert,
No glue to join; his little beak was all;
And yet how neatly finished! — What nice hand,
With every implement and means of art,
And twenty years' apprenticeship to boot,
Could make me such another? Fondly then
We boast of excellence, whose noblest skill
Instinctive genius foils!

I have before me the MS. of an ode written by Hurdis on the Duke of Portland's installation as Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1792. It is uncertain whether it was actually recited on the occasion, as Hurdis was not made Professor of Poetry until the following year. It is a hasty, unfinished performance, and it would therefore be unfair to quote it entire, but the following verses, with which it terminates, will please every lover of true lyric poetry:

The lovely mother of melodious verse
Her captivating ode now 'gins rehearse,
Such ode as once she taught her son,
What time his woes he sang so well,
He moved inexorable Hell,
And from fell Dis his blooming consort won.
Portland her theme, a theme so dear,
It kindles rapture in the ear
Of all who to the welcome sound
Listen around.
The sacred Nine
With looks expressing joy divine
About her throng;
With rosy arms and bosom fair,
Each lifts her garland in the air,
And foots it to her song.
They seize her soul-bewitching numbers all,
And with one effort swell them as they fall.
So dance and chorus with each other vie,
And Portland's welcome echoes to the sky!

[Author's note: For the use of the MS. I am obliged to the Rev. J. R. Bloxam, D.D., late Fellow of Magd. Coll.