1783 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Greville

Richard Polwhele, "Epistle to a College Friend" 1783; Traditions and Recollections (1826) 1:140-45.



While yet 'tis mine to trace the feeling hour,
And win young Fancy from the Muses' bower,
Ere pressing cares, too numerous, intervene
To disenchant the bosom-soothing scene;
Come, ere your finer tints to memory fade—
Ye views — how soon to sink in sombre shade!
O come, where never cares engender'd strife,
Ye transient visions of untroubled life!
There may I colour, where our College-day
Triumph'd in youthful spirits light and gay,
The generous mind expanding into joy,
While no mean passion mixt its base alloy;
Melt o'er our parting moments not in vain,
Fresh as I read my GREVILLE'S heart again;
Rescue each sparkle of our wishing eyes,
And from severe oblivion steal our sighs!

Far from our letter'd groves when fancy droops,
Or feebly pencils our aerial groupes;
When dull realities, fast gathering round,
Scatter the forms that dance on fairy ground;
Thy dear idea lightens up the whole,
And gilds with friendly rays my soften'd soul!

'Tis then I see the sacred domes arise,
And WOLSEY'S tower-crown'd Gateway pierce the skies;
And pass the Gothic arch in eager haste,
And greet the bowers that nurs'd our kindred taste:
Fond to renew the philologic task,
Tho' wakeful study ten long hours may ask;
But, still with all our former feelings, prone
To fly the circles of the problem-drone.

'Tis then I cry: how little dash'd with woe—
The days, when Euclid was our only foe!
Tho' doom'd to stretch attention on the rack
That twists the cranium of the plodding pack,
We found our mathematic toils repaid
By the sweet contrast of the classic shade;
There met, with all the enthusiast's glowing rage,
The trophied chiefs of many a former age;
Mus'd o'er the historic tales that simply tell
How Roman glory rose, how Athens fell;
And caught each accent of the critic's tongue
That gave new lustre to Maeonian song!
Nor to vain ardours emulation stirr'd
Our souls: her voice with willing ears we heard;
Whether the strife of declamation blew
The sparks of young Invention into view;
Or (as the flame our weekly theses fann'd,
And diffidence held out the tremulous hand,)
Each offer'd to the censor sapient stuff,
Some into sermons spun, some brief enough—
Where the long hall, with hoary portraits hung,
Its iron-wreathed gate far open flung;
Or, as Collections breath'd the pale affright
Thro' the still vigils of the studious night,
Each closing Term our kindred wishes crown'd,
And BAGOT smil'd applause, nor JACKSON frown'd!

Yet Memory with a fonder glance pursues
Of vagrant Joy the many-colour'd views—
Congenial bliss that, bosom'd in the vale,
Drank the first fragrance of the summer-gale;
The painter's taste, that saw mild Autumn print
Deep on the mazy grove her magic tint;
And converse that, with Attic humour fraught,
Spurted in all the free career of Thought.

How often have we scaled the breezy mound,
And gaz'd upon the hamlet's distant bound;
And, sauntering, criticised the pastoral notes
Of peasants whistling near their wattled cotes;
O'erleap'd the stream, or trod the mossy plank
That trembled to the quaking willow-bank;
And reach'd the forest skirts, that struck the sight
A mass of shadow and of yellow light—
That to pale crimson, as the sunbeams sunk,
Resign'd the brightness of the burnish'd trunk;
When the night-warbler's melancholy lay
Stealing in liquid stillness on the day
'Till each cool cloud had lost its lilac hue,
Our sympathies to every quaver drew;
And the fair scene retiring, seem'd to faint
Into soft shade (what MELCHIER lov'd to paint),
'Till, curtain'd all, we heard, and hied us home,
The far-off echoes of the mighty Tom!

How oft, as less excursive Fancy mov'd,
Not unimpeded by our gowns we rov'd—
(Our careless gowns that vaunted no degree)
And climb'd the hill, and clasp'd Joe Pullen's tree;
Or winded thro' our own contiguous glade,
Or Merton, that arch'd high its bowery shade.

How oft, saluting the piazza'd dome,
We pierc'd, great ADDISON, thy holy gloom,
And own'd thee CATO'S bard, that oak beneath
Whose brazen plates, gigantic armour! sheath
Its hollow trunk from ruin, to proclaim
How Maudlin-fellows prize a poet's fame—
Or hint, that ev'n to college wisdom clings
A secret craving for less shadowy things!

Nor seldom, where the skiff fight glancing flew
Or flash'd the colours of the gay canoe,
The Summer's swift-descending hour we gave
To social pastime on the classic wave;
The paddler's evolutions pleas'd to mark
From the broad benches of our safer bark,
Whether beneath the wide spread awning glow'd
Our circling glass, while trowser'd rustics row'd;
Or to hale exercise we strove to pour
The fluid silver from each feather'd oar;
Or strait becalm'd, where low incumbent trees.
Wav'd to the whisper of the shifting breeze,
Among the rustling sedge and lilies moist
Mourn'd our rude efforts that essay'd to hoist
The slacken'd sails no more by zephyrs fill'd,
And ran aground, in steerage all unskill'd.

Ah then, what pleasing murmurs swell'd the gales—
The village merriment that never fails;
The skittler's noise beside the o'ershadow'd roof;
Fast o'er the level mead each prancing hoof;
The shouts of many an academic buck
O'er diving spaniels and the quaking duck;
From fragrant haycocks, where with wooden fork
Each peasant plied, till eve, the frolic work;
The laugh, loud echoed, of the sunburnt throng;
And, still more sweet, the milkmaid's simple song.

Faint as the sounds at distance seem'd to die,
The smoke, that curl'd o'er Godstowe, caught our eye:
And the pale fane, with duskier ivy hung
Where hoary moss beneath its meshes clung;
The monkish record on the rifted wall,
Ill-rhym'd the buried beauty to recall;
The labyrinth's secret maze, but dimly seen,
Where Rosamonda fled her tyrant Queen,
Our spirits wafted, in a wizard trance,
Far back into the days of old Romance!

Oft too, when Winter bade his torrents rush
O'er the dank meads, and hide each scatter'd bush,
What time the tempest all the skies o'ercast,
We wander'd, buffeting the boisterous blast;
And from the height, whose summit overbrow'd
Fair Isis' towers, survey'd the heaving cloud;
Shrunk from the leafless tree's fantastic form,
Now bent to earth, now straining to the storm;
And, as congenial terror touch'd our minds,
Beheld the brooding spirit of the winds
Sail downward to the vale, and sudden throw
His bursting gloom on Isis' towers below.

Meanwhile, retreated from the pathless waste,
Our pensive steps the glimmering cloister pac'd,
Where to each moaning gale, each murmur deep,
Scar'd Fancy saw the beckoning spectre sweep;
'Till, satiate, the Cathedral aisles around,
With every dreary sight and dismal sound,
We hail'd (no longer wrapt in wintry glooms)
The cheerful blaze illumining our rooms:
Where MASON'S muse the charm'd attention took,
Or, unconfin'd, we rov'd from book to book;
Or, as our desultory converse flow'd
The differing spirit of opinion glow'd,
That haply started, in the warm dispute,
MONBODDO sinking man into a brute.

'Twas thus, from all but surly censors free,
In serious musing or in social glee
We spent our eve; now reason'd and now rhym'd,
And sat, 'till chapel bells had duly chim'd.

Yet, tho' our suppers we postpon'd for prayers
As the late vespers clos'd our College cares,
Returning with an added friend in haste,
We shar'd, like HORACE, a divine repast.

Not that luxurious appetite, uncheck'd,
Long'd for such cates as graduate mouths expect;
Since, oft, at broken vespers, we deplor'd
Our cooling commons on the silent board,
And found, each heavenly aspiration o'er,
The cutlets, smoking once, that smok'd no more!

These were our sore vexations! Yet unchill'd
Gay Fancy sparkled, as our glasses fill'd.
Then the fair outline of our hopes we drew,
And fondly nurs'd them, as each figure grew;
Sketch'd for our different friends the future plan,
And form'd our systems, as our wishes ran
Contented crown'd a living with a wife,
Nor mark'd the varied ills that checquer life;
View'd, halcyon-bright, domestic ease appear,
Nor saw pale Grief distain it with a tear;
Bade the sweet pledges of Affection rise,
To melting blushes and entrancing eyes;
Pictur'd the bliss of Love's romantic morn,
And prest the rosy couch, without a thorn!

But ah! too soon the dear delusive dream
Fled, with the golden groves of Academe!
Alas! in scenes of vulgar life, I meet
Indifference! thy cold damps, thy chilling sleet;
While Envy's clouds diffuse their sullen gloom,
And blasts from Avarice nip young Fancy's bloom!

Ah! be it mine to fly the ignoble tribe,
Nor the dull maxims of the world imbibe;
To bid no generous sentiment expire,
And yet, tho' distant, breathe Affection's fire!
And while, beneath this low sequester'd thatch,
I scorn the false opinions that attach
The rich, the great, to many a vain pursuit,
And mark of all their toils the bitter fruit;
And hold the sweet compassion doubly dear
That drops o'er Woe the solitary tear;
O may my GREVILLE, since his spirits glide
With fervid impulse in a stronger tide,
The Christian patriot's pure ambition feel,
A bright example of unerring zeal!

And, if kind Heaven in wisdom hath decreed
The radiance of a mitre for his meed,
Be his, amidst the venal and the proud,
The officious fawner and the unfeeling crowd,
Be his to value independence most,
And, not a spark of early virtue lost,
Muse o'er the mirror calm Reflexion rears,
And view it spotless thro' the lapse of years.