1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Bentley

Richard Cumberland, in Retrospection, a Poem (1811) 43-45.



Still, still by Retrospection's magic pow'r,
Tho' threescore years and ten have interven'd,
I'm wafted back to boyhood, and behold,
To mental clear as to my nat'ral eye,
The honour'd form of Bentley — At his desk,
Beside his garden window, deep in thought,
With books embay'd, the learned Master sits:
Unaw'd I run to him; around my neck
He throws his arms; methinks ev'n now I feel
Their pressure and his kiss upon my cheek:
And lo! at once the page of ancient lore,
That offers no amusement to my sight,
Is shut, the golden chain of his bright thoughts
Is snapt without a murmur — palsey-struck
And halting, see he rises from his chair,
And spreads before me what his shelves can show
Of prints to gratify an idle boy.
And will the World persist to call him stern,
Morose and cynical, who never turn'd
From misery that sought him, never frown'd
On the repentant slanderer that had wrong'd him!
When bold impugners of the gospel truth
Essay'd to shake the pillars of his faith,
Then he was stern, then arm'd and amply stor'd
With learning, wit and eloquence sublime,
He beat their contumacious dulness down:
But when the blush of diffidence bespoke
His favour and forbearance, then the brow,
Wrinkled by deep research and thought intense,
Was smooth'd, and kindness brighten'd in his face.
Did then the snarling Poet hope to rend
The sacred wreath from that time-honour'd head,
His pigmy-stature scarce suffic'd to reach?
That not the mitred railer could atchieve,
Who rummag'd his Catullus to supply
Terms of contempt apportion'd to his spleen:
And, as I brav'd the danger, let me boast,
That it was by my arm the shield was rais'd,
Which sent that shaft rebounding on himself.

Now let the student, who prepares to engage
In grave discussions moral or divine,
Turn, if he wishes to consult a stile
Strong, energetic, classically pure,
To Bentley's page: he'll find a model there:
But sure I am, tho' I might justly claim
Some title to experience, there are those,
Who think that inspiration grants to them
More than whole years of study gain'd for me:
These will decry my judgment, and the World,
Who to old counsellors gives little heed,
Will turn from me to them — So let it turn!