1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Nathaniel Evans

R. P. S., in "Progress of Literature in Pennsylvania" Philadelphia Monthly Magazine NS 1 (December 1828) 115-17.



Evans was a man of talents, erudition and piety, but no poet. He wrote sensibly and harmoniously, and, had he lived in England, possibly his writings might have found a place in some of those cumberous and soporific collections, entitled the British Poets. Still such a destiny would not have made him a poet, though many names might be referred to, as belonging to the tuneful tribe, who are indebted for such distinction, to this circumstance, alone. Mr. Evans was born in Philadelphia, on the 8th of June, 1742, and spent about six years at the academy, which he entered shortly after it was first opened, and before the commencement of the collegiate part of the institution. He left the academy to serve an apprenticeship in a merchant`s counting-house, at the expiration of which he returned to the college, and applied himself to the study of philosophy and the sciences, until the commencement in May, 1765, when, in consideration of his uncommon merit, he was complimented with a diploma for the degree of master of arts, although he had not previously taken the bachelor's degree, in consequence of the above-mentioned interruption of his studies. He now embarked for England, and was admitted into holy orders, by Dr., Terrick, Lord Bishop of London, and again returned to Philadelphia, where he landed in December of the same year. He immediately entered upon his pastoral duties in Gloucester county, New Jersey, which had been assigned to him, and died two years afterwards, in the 26th year of his age. He is described as having been an amiable, enlightened and a pious man. His writings were collected by Dr. Smith, and published in a small volume in 1772. The principal poem of our author is, "An ode on the Prospect of Peace," dated 1761. His invocation to the muse is modest and unassuming:

If thou, from Albion's sea-girt shore,
Adventr'ous muse, win deign to rove,
Inclin'd remotest realms t' explore
And sooth the savage soul to love;
Hither wave thy wand'ring pinion;
Here be fixed thy last dominion.

In the same ode, speaking of the verse of Pindar, as the Romans had but one word for poet and prophet, he assumes the gift of prophecy, and exclaims:

To such may Delaware, majestic flood,
Lend from his flow'ry banks a ravish'd ear,
Such notes as may delight the wise and good,
Or saints celestial may induce to hear!
For if the muse can aught of time descry,
Such notes shall sound thy crystal waves along,
Thy cities fair with glorious Athens rise,
Nor pure Illisus boast a nobler song.

Already the city fair, on the banks of the Delaware, has been denominated the Athens of America; but the rest of the prophecy remains to be fulfilled. The return of peace, after the desolation and horrors of war, is thus happily described:

When Eurus, charged with livid clouds,
Scours o'er old ocean's wild domain,
And Boreas rends the vessel's shrouds,
And o'er her swells the raging main;
If lighter breezes should succeed,
And Iris sweet of varied hue,
Lift o'er the main her beamy head,
What raptures fill the marine crew!

Thus when Bellona, ruthless maid,
Her empire through the world has spread,
And death his flag has proud display'd,
O'er legions that in battle bled:
If peace, bedeck'd with olive robe,
(Resplendent nymph, sweet guest of Heaven,)
Tranfuse her balm around the globe,
A theme of joy to man is given.

Prefixed to Godfrey's poems is an elegy to the memory of that author, which cannot be denied the merit of flowing in harmonious numbers. It was written by John Green, a portrait painter, and an early friend of Godfrey, who alludes to him in the following lines which occur in his poem, entitled A Night Piece:

What hand can picture forth the solemn scene,
The deep'ning shade and the faint glimm'ring light!
How much above th' expressive art of Green
Are the dim beauties of the dewy night!