1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. John Wolcot

Thomas Dermody "The Battle of the Bards" 1800; The Harp of Erin (1807) 2:10-27.



CANTO I.
Where 'mid the tuneful spinsters can I find
One nymph to pugilistic charms inclin'd?
Has ever muse, unmindful of her state,
In Pindar's fountain wash'd a broken pate?
Or grave Melpomene, in contest high,
Discharg'd her blue-rag at Thalia's eye?
While Bacchus held the bottle, and the Sun
Delay'd his patent coach to smoke the fun?
Yet, though unskill'd to batter or to bruise,
By all the gods! I must invoke a muse:
For ne'er, in garret perch'd, may warbling wit
Presume that useful lady to omit,
Till lawyers curse their clients, quacks their fees,
Till taylors kick their cucumbers and peas,
Till nobles pay their debts like vulgar men,
Till droops the British flag, and "Chaos comes again."

Haste then, sweet nymph! and with thee bring along
The mute admirers of thy tragic song:
Whether thou hymn'st some youth of talents rare,
Ordain'd by Fate to dance on "desert air;"
Or to the echoing alleys soft complain
(By pill incurable) of am'rous pain;
Thou! whom a virgin of High Holborn bore,
Erst, to a piper from Irene's shore,
What time St. Giles, with all its splendor crown'd,
Terrific, aw'd the vassal realm around;
Whether at Billingsgate, propitious seat!
Where eloquence and mild conviction meet,
Thy "goddess-like demeanour" I survey,
Another naked Venus from the sea;
Or find thee some gay tap-room bow'r within,
Ambrosial bow'r! all redolent of gin,
Oh! come, dear Impudence! — discreetly pass
The next libation of thy fav'rite glass;
Come, and in all thy native graces drest,
Recline inebriate on my raptur'd breast;
Strong as thy bev'rage be the kindling fire,
Numbers, sonorous numbers I require,
Worthy thy mother, and harmonious sire!
Whose pipe Orphean savage myriads led,
While stones, high-bounding, jigg'd upon his head;
Lur'd from their hovels cognoscenti-hogs,
Quick-capering kittens, and slow-dancing dogs;
Or bad sage asses musically bray:
Such virtue in his charmful bladder lay.

Say then (for thou the dread event must know),
What anger levell'd the immortal blow?
What against Giffard urg'd Sir Pindar's rage,
Or arm'd Sir Giffard against Pindar's age?
Uuequal match'd, a dubious doom they prove;
Blameful alike, — but such the will of Jove!
What direful deeds from trifling causes spring?
A bastinado'd bard, or exil'd king:
What fell effects from wayward errors flow?
A numscull shatter'd, or a nation's woe.
Here, (but the nicer epic rule denies
That quaint old-fashion'd trick to moralize),
Could I through many a pensive page deplore,
And sighing, dip my raven-quill in gore;
Tell, through mistake, and heedless of a check,
How fine Phaeton broke his comely neck;
Tell, through mistake, how minions of high place
In eight years slaughter drench'd the human race;
Tell, through mistake, for Merry-Andrew fit,
How each poor playwright deems himself a wit;
Tell, through mistake, and mindful of third night,
How Mimes, instead of acting, dare to write.
Scribblers erroneous other dolts forsake,
And libel their dull selves — the worst mistake:
For from a mere mistake, perversely wrong,
Rises this lofty argument of song.

Long had Sir Pindar, of unrivall'd might,
To Momus' birchen chaplet prov'd his right;
Long had his satire prob'd each pompous sin,
And stripp'd each rhiming Marsyas to the skin;
But lo! all slovenly his uncouth lay,
His powers so nervous dwindle to decay;
No more by sense approv'd, or folly fear'd,
The nauseous dregs of driv'ling age appear'd:
Scarce one bright spark illum'd a dreary line,
Mirth doz'd, and Malice caught the lucky sign;
Yet Candour pitied still, with liberal mind,
The tuneful Belisarius, old and blind.

Hast thou not heard the undisputed fame
Of these great sheets that note an author's name?
Hast thou not kenn'd those furious beasts of prey
That hunt lank poets in the face of day,
And rav'nous on their fleshless members feed?
Not fiercer Afric or Hyrcania breed.
Oh! hast thou not, in shaggy vesture blue,
Beheld that monthly monster, a Review;
Wont every garret, horrible, to scour,
Bloodier than bum, aye seeking to devour?
A hungry tyger of this horrid crew
(To the rank scen of carrion ever true)
"Upturn'd into the air his nostril wide,"
And from afar the drooping minstrel spied;
Forth from his lair loud thunder'd critic law,
Then clapp'd on Peter his tremendous paw.
Whole pamphlets, in his ireful mood, he tore,
Fresh-bleeding sonnets strew the letter'd floor;
Meek eclogues murmur, strangled in the birth;
Lampoons inflammatory load the hearth;
Sad elegies their swan-like requiem breathe;
Pert epigrams, still lively, smile in death;
Soft am'rous odes their "balmy fragrance," shed,
And heap the desk with mountains of the dead.
Hence stern debate, hence anger, ferret-ey'd,
Wolvish dissension hence, and leopard pride;
Hence bull-dog battle, monkey malice hence,
The mule's deep sullens, and the ass's sense;
On every side wild blaz'd the wrathful soul,
And either ink-stand bled at every hole.

Say whence this curst mistake, bland goddess say?
A name, a little name provok'd the fray;
(Oh! that the vile critique was never seen,
For, oh! that such a name had never been!)
For Peter, at some blund'ring dÊmon's call,
Delug'd on innocence his missile gall;
(Here innocent, at least, could he restrain
Such odious hints as his own manhood stain),
Levell'd at wight unknown his angry squirt,
And mad, at random flung about his dirt;
Fool! not to know two dunces might be found,
Of title similar, on English ground;
Luxuriant ground! amid whose golden corn
Tall poppies lift the brow, and nod in scorn.
Nor here was bounded the destructive pest,
New fires inflame the brawny poet's breast,
Confederate papers feed them to a blaze,
And mirrors pour forth their reflecting rays;
At length the censor's mighty self combines,
And all the wond'rous worth of Dutton shines!

Oh, thou! infallible, with learned air,
To yawn and grumble from the critic chair,
Smote by the glance of whose majestic eye,
The daily grubs of literature die;
Whether thou deign'st, with condescension mild,
To point the path of each theatric child;
Or, gently physic'd by a golden pill,
Squeeze the smooth flatt'ry from thine oily quill;
Though reason may revolt, and satire rail,
Great Dennis' greater son, dread Dutton, hail!
And thou, compatriot of a name so dear,
Whatever title suit thine only ear,
Williams, or Pasquin (that too clumsy veil
Doth ill thy splendid ignorance conceal),
Whose pompous style, and sentiment so weak,
Ape Punch's lofty strut and tiny squeak,
Thy diction on dry rubbish deep manure,
Hail! partners of the palpable obscure;
Rightful heirlooms of dark oblivion's vale,
Licens'd proprietors of libel, hail!
Not yours the blushes, beautiful, that break
Conviction's dawn on Virtue's varying cheek:
Yours, Swiss-like, av'rice of the highest price,
As ready to defend as combat vice;
Yours, empty Arrogance, no bound that knows;
Yours, Envy's blight, that blasts the fairest rose;
And yours, unconscious of the worst disgrace,
A dauntless intrepidity of face.
Thrice happy both! if e'er my humble rhime
May reach the optics of remoter time,
Congenial spirits, clam'rous in your praise,
Shall own that fools were rife in George's days;
Your volumes, thumb'd by infants yet unborn,
Rare wooden prints, expressive, shall adorn;
To a dead wall magnific Thespis cling,
And Zoroaster dangle from a string;
While bloods and drunken bullies bilk a score;
While loyal coblers at elections roar;
While cits delight in tawdry pantomime;
While ladies deem crim. con. a venial crime;
While doctors love a cane and flowing wig;
While boxers hate a dun, and Jews a pig;
While painted beauties ply in Drury-lane,
So long your virtue, fame, and honour, shall remain.

CANTO II
Now knaves, so studious of the sage's plan,
Sought with dark lanthorns for an honest man;
Now gamesters conn'd their talismanic board;
Now with their wives uncourteous husbands snor'd;
Now to their sweethearts tiptoe lovers crept;
Now play-projectors murder'd though they slept;
Now fearful rose, to punish Dutton's crimes,
Plots, incidents, and spectred pantomimes;
Now lords their chariots quit on festal state,
While Townshend tries their passes at the gate;
Now night, pale widow, in her old black gown,
Peaceful, had mnffled up this precious town;
Watchmen no more the nicer organs shock,
But, soft as zephyr, hiccupp'd "one o'clock!"
When, close by Peter's couch a goblin stood;
Goblin robust, as though of flesh and blood:
Thrice twitch'd his night-cap, thrice his pillow shook,
Thrice pull'd the coverlid, and mournful spoke.

"Behold the laureat, not again come back
From heav'n's ambrosia to assert his sack,
But wicked with with counsel to repay,
And warn thee of the inevitable day;
For this did Kearsley share his Sunday cheer,
Enthusiast of plumb-pudding and brown beer?
For this did Opie lend a christian look.
To the grand prototype before thy book?
Ah! feel'st thou not the anticipated jest
Of Mistress Cosway, and of Master West?
Hear'st thou not snort the famished steeds of Stubbs?
Haunt not thy vermin'd dream Sir Joseph's grubs?
Skip not his boil'd fleas, buzzing in thine ear?
Or Buller's meteor-wig dost thou not fear?
Portentous on to-morrow's dawn they low'r;
Avert, oh Peter, the disastrous hour!
The hour disgraceful shun, if fate allow,
Destin'd to rob the laurel from thy brow;
But now, on glory meditant arise!"—
He spoke, and speaking sought his native skies.


Clad in a suit of second-mourning hue,
Uprose the morn, and uprose Peter too.
Wan as a death-hunter's, his visage frown'd,
And wild he cast his rueful eyes around;
His eyes, where feebly shone a rush-light ray,
His wistful eyes, "that witness'd huge dismay."
Yet fell revenge, impatient of controul,
Yet injur'd talent stung his stormy soul;
Yet, Wharton's voice his learned zeal alarm'd,
(Tenacious of the saw, "fore-warn'd, fore-arm'd,")
And seizing a stout twig his grandsire bore,
He cough'd, and issued at the postern-door.
Returning never with Pindaric pride
Shall he triumphant o'er its threshold stride;
But on the steps, with loose dishevell'd hair,
Shall sit, unwelcome visitant, Despair.

There is a street, full stately to the sight
Of trav'lling clown, and Piccadilly hight;
Brave street, which first I enter'd, awful thing!
When I beheld St. James's and the King.
But most, another Academe, this street
For shop of bibliopolist is meet;
Where Bond-street lounger, tir'd of vain pursuits,
May contemplate on Newton, or — his boots;
There hold sweet dialogue, facetious smile;
There fix the fashion of an author's style;
There comb his crop, there meliorate his mind,
And give commands — to letter and to bind.

Here, deeply studious, in an easy chair,
His choler meeken'd, and compos'd his air;
Warn'd by no vision of th' impending stroke,
But smiling heedless at each passing joke,
Ill-fated Giffard sat. The shelves around,
Convulsive, gave a hideous groan profound;
The Baviad thrice, in sympathetic pain,
Open'd its filial leaves, and clos'd again;
The parrot burst her cage, loquacious fowl!
And on the chimney perch'd the mystic owl:
When lo! dilated into tenfold might,
In breadth a hogshead, and a tow'r in height,
In rush'd the bulk of Peter. — Muse benign,
Still louder swell that penny-trump of thine;
For ne'er did tilt of prowess'd Charlemagne,
Or craz'd Orlando, claim a nobler strain;
Though his mad capers meet the general view
In half a hundred cantos, mine in two.

Summon'd by Mars, who had no time to spare,
'Twixt love and war, the contest and the fair;
To fix nice points of honor, cool the fray,
And see both warriors come with life away;
Victoria (she who left her troops behind,
Heartsick, in swarthy Egypt), was assign'd:
Yet she, like Festus, frighted by Saint Paul,
Scarce sav'd her trembling balance from a fall,
'Till clamb'ring to the roof with hasty feet,
A folio of campaigns supplied her seat;
There sat she, cow'ring, like a pagod nich'd,
And deem'd the bards bedevil'd or bewitch'd.
Not Peter's uncle, yearly when he came
To tune his crowder at th' Olympic game;
Not he (though Theban chaps were rather stout)
E'er saw or sung so terrible a bout;
Though Milo, with one formidable box,
Split the tough cranium of a bellowing ox,
Peel'd off the hide to save his feet from thorns,
And pick'd his teeth, at supper, with the horns.

"Is Giffard here?" the maniac minstrel cry'd;
Giffard, "Lo! him thou seek'st is here!" reply'd.
"From hence then take thy ferry o'er to hell!"
Right on his sconce the sturdy sapling fell;
His sconce, impenetrable, scorn'd a wound,
But hollow rung, and gave a mournful sound;
While horror bristled up his wond'ring hair,
And strain'd each muscle to an iron stare.

As when, instead of tipping half-a-crown,
Some powder'd bully knocks his barber down;
Or to a bard some patronizing duke,
Instead of twenty pounds, returns his book;
Or to some beau a bailiff in the pit,
Instead of choice rappee presents a wr i;
So Giffard star'd (and so perdie would you),
And writh'd and scratch'd, "and wist not what to do."
Stupid awhile he stood; and ey'd the foe
With frozen glare, a monument of woe:
'Till, blown by gusts of rage, his ebbing blood
Foaming came back, spring-tide, a roaring flood.
And now his shoulders to the work he lays,
And now the blow at cent. per cent. repays.
Dire blow! that threaten'd ruin to his brain;
And all its embryo-brood, a harmless train;
For there unfledg'd the young ideas rest,
Like callow birdlings in a cuckoo's nest.

If thou hast e'er th' Etnean depths explor'd,
With molten rocks and flaming lava stor'd;
Where old Empedocles once bruised his rump,
Popp'd from its sultry summit — no bad jump:
If thou hast trac'd that celebrated hole,
Nor sing'd thy beard, nor burn'd thy slipper-sole;
Then hast thou seen at an infernal heat
The one-ey'd brethren on their anvil beat;
Quaff down, like purl, amid their maudlin tricks,
Full pots of Periphlegeton and Styx;
Then well-refresh'd their noisy trade renew,
And bang till e'en the fire itself was blue.
So, capable King Harry's mail to crack,
Associate fists keep time on Peter's back;
In "regular confusion," they descend,
And Parthian prentices, at either end,
Discharge their coward cuffs, and partial succour lend.
But, chief of stature, eminently tall,
Fit living skeleton for surgeon's hall,
A bony Frenchman thy assailants led,
Gloomy as death! where most the battle bled:
Him shall thy future lays to fame consign,
And therefore he shall grace no verse of mine.

Had not thy ribs (a seas'nable relief),
Been compass'd with a triple coat of beef,
Though patience was thy only plaister then,
Most patient of the fretful sons of men!
Had not its valiant sirloin fill'd thy breast,
By heav'n! thy patience ne'er had stood the test;
Though patience was thy only plaister then,
Most patient of the fretful sons of men:
For lo! like Bajazet, to please the rout,
The victors in, now turn the vanquish'd out.

Victors in vain! — them every month shall goad
With keen epistle, and musquito ode;
Them, penitent too late of foul abouse,
Shall grinning Satire from their dens produce;
Them, angel Truth with radiant shafts assail,
While Modesty destroys the sland'rous tale;
Forgot each other butt of song severe,
Them, piecemeal, shall his fury-pamphlets tear;
For them shall he desert the weaker side,
And, ev'n to kings a couplet be deny'd.

Discomfited, deject, with bleeding brow,
Alarm'd, his fav'rite mob forsake him now;
Yet 'gainst yon fatal shop that caus'd his pain
He hurls his unappeasable disdain;
Some great revenge he plans, and frames the fall
Of master, counter, 'prentices, and all:
Glorious emprize! then, mindful of his head,
He groans, and surly seeks a 'pothecary's shed.