1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Lisle Bowles

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: Rev. William Lisle Bowles" Fraser's Magazine 13 (March 1836) 300.



We endeavour to vary the attraction of our Gallery by selecting now the London lion, whose outward Adam may be unknown to nine hundred among a thousand of our provincial admirers — now the ornament of some rural district, who has never, perhaps, breathed the air of the metropolis for a week on end. Here, for example, is the Rector of Bremhill, one as much the observed of all observers in the west of England, as Wordsworth is In the north; but who might probably walk from Whitechapel to the White Horse Cellar without being, recognised, by a single passer-by, for any thing more than a fair specimen of your old-fashioned shovel-hat.

The last time he came up, it was to attend the musical festival in Westminster Abbey; on which occasion he penned fourteen lines, worthy of the only English sonnetteer who can claim a place in the same file with Milton and Wordsworth. He then lodged under the roof of the most urbane (who is also the most Urban, as contradistinguished from Cockney) of our poets. Bowles amused himself now and then during his stay, as old Crabbe had done in like circumstances before him, with an evening stroll to the theatres; where, in the sweet security of incog., he might either laugh his sides sore at Liston, or strain his optics dim at Taglioni. The first night he did not come home till somewhere between one and two. "My dear friend, said his host, "I was afraid something had happened — you must have lost your way!" "I did," quoth Bowles; "I turned east instead of west, I believe, and I don't know how far I might have gone astray, had I not fallen into conversation with two very elegant ladies, who were so kind as to conduct me in safety to your door." "Lucky man! — and did you part company without finding out who they were?" "No," said our original, "they gave me their tickets; and one of them was a particularly merry young lady — perhaps you know her [here he handed a card across the table]. And she said, to make sure of my calling to thank her for her convoy, I must give her a keepsake by way of pledge." "By all means," grunted Sam; be sure you call on Mrs. Stafford, 15 Lisson Quadrant, and reclaim the little sixpence." "Stafford! — 'tis a high name!" observed the sonnetteer; "I should not wonder if she were an honourable." Moore did not mention if Rogers actually allowed the old boy to make out his visit to the lovely aristocrat of Paddington.

We do not wish to be very particular in our biography of this poetical Parson Adams, because he has himself begun the publication of his Memoirs in monthly numbers; and we should be sorry to interfere with a work so sure to deserve extensive circulation. Moreover, who but himself could fill up, with satisfactory details, the outline of a personal career so calm, so innocent, pursued from youth to age in the happiest of all human localities — that of the vine-mantled rectory of the sequestered English valley — only varied latterly by an annual migration of three winter months to the well-swept, wide-echoing close, that adjoins the most graceful of cathedrals. Since he left Oxford, even then distinguished beyond her walls by that 12mo, of which both Wordsworth and Coleridge have recorded, that to it they owed their first impetus — since the blooming youth left the bowers of Charwell, until the gray-haired sage gave, all-unconscious, his sitting to Croquis, such has been the peaceful lot of him who certainly has a far better title than Rogers to be called "the grandfather of our living poets." A couple of his self-affiliated progeny have already been alluded to — thumping twins, it must be allowed; and if we were to reckon up their intellectual seed, we think our patriarchal designation would pass "nem. con."

It has pleased Jeffrey to say, that Bowles will only be remembered for his controversy with Byron. We think he was wrong in that dispute; but we reject the sentence of the Northern, as false, faithless, and worthy of no acceptation. Bowles is an original genius, if our age has produced one; and, if he had never penned a single syllable of prose, his place would have been as secure as even Byron's own — to say nothing of the puisne judge's.

Farewell, dear old bard! Long may you continue to enjoy your morning fiddle and your evening pipe — the affectionate respect of your parishioners, and the worshipful admiration of your brethren of the clerisy. And whenever you revisit the great city, even Babylon, the mistress of abominations, be sure you remember not to forget that OLIVER has a rump and dozen at your service — and that our niece, Miss FITZYORKE, will see you safe home to No. 22.