1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Merry

Hannah Cowley, "Stanzas [on Della Crusca's Elegy on the Plain of Fontenoy]" The World (23 November 1787).



In consequence of the last fine flight of the transcendent Poet, on the PLAIN OF FONTENOY— and not forty hours after! — the WORLD was very highly favoured with the FOLLOWING STANZAS!
Greater praise they cannot have — less praise, they should not have than this — to rank them, with the Genius which is thus described to have excited them.
In poetic energe, and philosophic truth — in all the grace and force of numbers — the one predominates equally with the other.
It will be easily understood, nothing but a perverse accident, which is at once to be pitied and excused, could have prevented such an obligation, being thus sooner owned.

Hush'd, be each ruder note — Soft silence spread
With ermine hand thy cobweb robe around;
Attention! pillow my reclining head,
Whilst eagerly I catch the golden sound.

Hah! What a tone was that, which floating near,
Seem'd Harmony's full soul — whose is the lyre?
Which seizing thus on my enraptur'd ear
Chills with its force, yet melts me with its fire.

Ah dull of heart! thy Minstrel's touch not know,
What Bard but DELLA CRUSCA boasts such skill?
From him alone, these melting notes can flow—
He, only knows adroitly thus to trill.

Well have I left the Groves, which sighing wave
Amidst November's blast their naked arms,
Whilst their red leaves fall flutt'ring to their grave,
And give again to dust, May's vernal charms.

Well have I left the air embosom'd hills
Where sprightly health in verdant buskin plays;
Forsaken fallow meads, and circling mills,
And thyme-dress'd heaths, where the soft flock yet strays.

Obscuring smoak, and air impure I greet,
With the coarse din that trade and folly form,
For here the Muse's Son again I meet—
I catch his notes amidst the vulgar storm.

His notes now bear me, pensive, to the Plain
Cloath'd by a verdure drawn from Britain's heart;
Whose heroes bled superior to their pain,
Sunk, crown'd with glory, and contemn'd the smart.

Soft, as he leads me round th' ensanguin'd fields,
The laurel'd Shades forsake their grassy tomb,
The bursting sod its palid inmate yields,
And o'er th' immortal waste their spirits roam.

Obedient to the Muse the acts revive
Which Time long past had veil'd from mortal ken,
Embattled Squadrons, rush, as when alive,
And shadwoy falchions gleam, o'er shadowy men.

Ah, who art thou, who thus with frantic air
Flies fearless to support that bleeding youth;
Binds his deep gashes with thy glowing hair,
And diest beside him, to attest thy truth?

"His Sister I; an orphan'd pair, we griev'd,
For Parent's long at rest within the grave,
By a false Guardian of our wealth bereav'd—
The little ALL parental care could save.

"Chill look'd the World, and chilly grew our hearts,
Oh! where shall Poverty expect a smile?
Gross lawless Love assumed its ready arts,
And all beset was I, with fraud and guile.

"My Henry sought the War, and drop'd the tears
Of Love fraternal as he bad farewell;
But fear, soon made me rise above my fears,
I follow'd — and Fate tolls our mutual knell."

Chaste Maiden rest; and brighter spring the green,
That decorates the turf thy bloom will feed!
And oh, in softest mercy 'twas, I ween,
To worth like thine, a Brother's grave decreed.

The dreadful shrick of death now darts around,
The hollow winds repeat each tortur'd sigh,
Deep bitter groans, still deeper groans resound,
Whilst Fathers, Brothers, Lovers, Husbands dye.

Turn from this spot, blest Bard! thy mental eye;
To Hamlets, Cities, Empires bend its beam!
'Twill there such multiplying deaths descry,
That all before thee'll but an abstract seem.

Why waste thy tears o'er this contracted Plain?
The sky which canopies the sons of breath,
Sees the whole Earth one Scene of mortal pain,
The vast, the universal BED OF DEATH!

Where, do not Husbands, Fathers, dying moan?
Where, do not Mothers, Sisters, Orphans weep?
Where, is not heard the last expiring groan,
Or the deep throttle of the deathful sleep!

If, as Philosophy doth often muse,
A state of war, in natural state to man,
BATTLE'S the sickness bravery would chuse—
Noblest DISEASE in Nature's various plan!

Let vulgar souls stoop to the fever's rage,
Or slow, beneath pale atrophy depart,
With Gout, and Scrophula weak variance wage
Or sink, with sorrow cank'ring at the heart;

These, be to common Mind, th' unwish'd decree!
The FIRM select an illness more sublime;
By languid pains, scorn their high souls to free,
But seek the Sword's swift edge, and spurn at time.
ANNA MATILDA
Sat, Nov. 17th.