1810 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Tighe

Joseph Haslewood, Review of Tighe, Psyche; British Bibliographer 1 (1810) 162-69.



Psyche; or the Legend of Love. "Castos docet et pios amores." Martial. London. 1805. [Back of title] Printed for James Carpenter, Old Bond Street, by C. Whittingham, Union Buildings. 12mo. pp. 214.

Bibliography embraces every period, from the sombre text of Caxton to the trim type of Caslon. The difficulty arises in seldom being able to extract novelty from the latter. One hundred copies of the Legend of Love have been distributed to the "chosen few," while the readers have multiplied above ten fold, and a perusal is only obtained by favour. For the present loan I am indebted to the Rev. Mr. White, of Lichfield, and consider that those who may not have seen the elegant and fascinating numbers of Mrs. Henry Tighe, will feel gratified in the perusal of the following specimens.

"The loves of Cupid and Psyche (says the faire authoress, in a short and apposite preface) have long been a favourite subject for poetical allusion, and are well known as related by Apuleius: to him I am indebted for the outline of my tale in the two first cantos; but, even there, the model is not closely copied, and I have taken nothing from Moliere, La Fontaine, Du Moustier, or Marino. I have seen no imitations of Apuleius, except by those authors, nor do I know that the story of Psyche has any other original." Dated Rosanna, Jan. 1802.

"Sonnet addressed to my Mother."
Oh, thou! whose tender smile most partially
Hath ever bless'd thy child: to thee belong
The graces which adorn my first wild song,
If aught of grace it knows: nor thou deny
Thine ever prompt attention to supply.
But let me lead thy willing ear along,
Where virtuous love still bids the strain prolong
His innocent applause; since from thine eye
The beams of love first charm'd my infant breast,
And from thy lip Affection's soothing voice
That eloquence of tenderness express'd,
Which still my grateful heart ccnfess'd divine:
Oh! ever may its accents sweet rejoice
The soul which loves to own whate'er it has is thine!

A short proem thus commences:

Let not the rugged brow the rhymes accuse,
Which speak of gentle knights and ladies fair,
Nor scorn the lighter labours of the muse,
Who yet, for cruel battles would not dare
The low-strung chords of her weak lyre prepare;
But loves to court repose in slumbery lay,
To tell of goodly bowers and gardens rare,
Of gentle blandishments and amorous play,
And all the lore of love, in courtly verse essay.

And ye whose gentle hearts in thraldom held
The power of mighty Love already own,
When you the pains and dangers have beheld,
Which erst your lord hath for his Psyche known,
For all your sorrows this may well atone,
That he you serve the same hath suffered;
And sure, your fond applause the tale will crown
In which your own distress is pictured,
And all that weary way which you yourselves must tread.

The first Canto, introduction of the heroine. Her fatal beauty is not attempted in minute description, though its effect more engages the attention.

For she was timid as the wintry flower,
That, whiter than the snow it blooms among,
Droops its fair head submissive to the power
Of every angry blast which sweeps along
Sparing the lovely trembler, while the strong
Majestic tenants of the leafless wood
It levels low. But, ah! the pitying song
Must tell how, than the tempest's self more rude,
Fierce wrath and cruel hate their suppliant prey pursued.

Envy of Venus, and her vengeful instructions to Cupid are next described, with his visit to the fountains of Joy and Sor. row; where

Pleasure had called the fertile lawns her own,
And thickly strewed them with her choicest flowers;
Amid the quiet glade her golden throne
Bright shone with lustre through o'erarching bowers:
There her fair train, the ever downy Hours,
Sport on light wing with the young Joys entwined;
While Hope delighted from her full lap showers
Blossoms, whose fragrance can the ravished mind
Inebriate with dreams of rapture unconfin'd.

The two fountains temper the darts of love; the vases filled; visit to the couch of Psyche. In using the dart love also wounds himself. Sacrifice to Apollo for an explanation of her dream. The decree.

"On nuptial couch, in nuptial vest arrayed,
On a tall rock's high summit Psyche place:
Let all depart, and leave the fated maid
Who never must a mortal Hymen grace:
A winged monster of no earthly race
Thence soon shall bear his trembling bride away;
His power extends o'er all the bounds of space,
And Jove himself has owned his dreaded sway,
Whose flaming breath sheds fire, whom earth and heaven obey."

The devoted heroine left on the rock, borne by zephyrs to the island of Pleasure; surprise at the enchanting scene; description of the beauty and treasures of the palace of Love. The banquet and marriage.

Once more she hears the hymeneal strain;
Far other voices now attune the lay;
The swelling sounds approach, awhile remain,
And then retiring faint dissolved away:
The expiring lamps emit a feebler ray,
And soon in fragrant death extinguished lie:
Then virgin terrors Psyche's soul dismay,
When through the obscuring gloom she nought can spy,
But softly rustling sounds declare some Being nigh.

Oh, you for whom I write! whose hearts can melt
At the soft thrilling voice whose power you prove,
You know what charm, unutterably felt,
Attends the unexpected voice of Love:
Above the lyre, the lute's soft notes above,
With sweet enchantment to the soul it steals
And bears it to Elysium's happy grove;
You best can tell the rapture Psyche feels
When Love's ambrosial lip the vows of Hymen seals.

Solitude of the heroine during the day; request to see her relations and reluctant consent of Love, conclude the first Canto. Opening stanzas, the visit to the paternal mansion and envy of the Sisters. Their speech to implant suspicion in her breast; its effect.

Oh! have you seen, when in the northern sky
The transient flame of lambent lightning plays,
In quick succession lucid streamers fly,
Now flashing roseate, and now milky rays,
While struck with awe the astonished rustics gaze?
Thus o'er her cheek the fleeting signals move,
Now pale with fear, now glowing with the blaze
Of much indignant, still confiding love,
Now horror's lurid hue with shame's deep blushes strove.

Psyche returns, conceals the lamp until

Allowed to settle on celestial eyes
Soft Sleep exulting now exerts his sway,
From Psyche's anxious pillow gladly flies
To veil those orbs, whose pure and lambent ray
The powers of heaven submissively obey.
Trembling and breathless then she softly rose
And seized the lamp, where it obscurely lay,
With hand too rashly daring to disclose
The sacred veil which hung mysterious o'er her woes.

Twice, as with agitated step she went,
The lamp expiring shone with doubtful gleam,
As though it warned her from her rash intent:
And twice she paused, and on its trembling beam
Gazed with suspended breath, while voices seem
With murmuring sound along the roof to sigh;
As one just waking from a troublous dream,
With palpitating heart and straining eye,
Still fixed with fear remains, still thinks the danger nigh.

Her imprudent curiosity is discovered, the god awakes, suddenly departs, and the palace vanishes, leaving the heroine deserted on a sandy wild. Her repentant invocation and prayer, the celestial answer with comfort and advice. Visit to the temple of Venus; hears the task to be performed; commences her journey, guided by Innocence as a Dove; and the Canto finishes by reverting to, and continuance of, the description of her wandering state from the commencement of the poem. The third Canto opens in praise of Love; an armed knight introduced, who attends the heroine as a champion, with his page Constance; assumes the command of passion, who appears as a Lion. They arrive at the bower of loose delight;

On a soft downy couch the guests are placed,
And close behind them stands their watchful page,
But much his strict attendance there disgraced,
And much was scorned his green and tender age,
His calm fixed eye, and steady aspect sage:
But him nor rude disdain, nor mockery,
Nor soothing blandishments could e'er engage
The wanton mazes of their sports to try,
Or from his lord to turn his firm adhering eye.

Psyche's escape from the alluring blandishments; conducted by Innocence to the vale of Retirement.

Oh! have you never known the silent charm
That undisturbed retirement yields the soul,
Where no intruder might your peace alarm,
And tenderness hath wept without control,
While melting fondness o'er the bosom stole?
Did fancy never, in some lonely grove,
Abridge the hours which must in absence roll?
Those pensive pleasures did you never prove,
Oh, you have never loved! you know not what is love!

They do not love who can to these prefer
The tumult of the gay, or folly's roar;
The Muse they know not; nor delight in her
Who can the troubled soul to rest restore,
Calm contemplation: Yes, I must deplore
Their joyless state, even more than his who mourns
His love for ever lost; delight no more
Unto his widowed heart indeed returns,
Yet, while he weeps, his soul their cold indifference spurns.

Psyche straying, while her knight sleeps, is met by Vanity and Flattery; betrayed by them into the power of Ambition; her danger, rescue by the Knight, and battle compared.

Beside the cold inhospitable lands
Where suns long absent dawn with lustre pale,
Thus on his bark the bold Biscayen stands,
And bids his javelin rouse the parent whale:
Fear, pain, and rage at once her breast assail,
The agitated ocean foams around
Lashed by the sounding fury of her tail,
Or as she mounts the surge with frightful bound,
Wide echoing to her cries the bellowing shores resound.

Fierce was the contest, but at length subdued,
The youth exulting sees his giant foe.
With wonder still the enormous limbs he viewed
Which lifeless now the waves supporting show;
His starred helm, that now was first laid low,
He seized as trophy of the wonderous fight,
And bade the sparkling gem on Constance glow,
While Psyche's eyes, soft beaming with delight,
Through tears of grateful praise applaud her gallant knight.

The fourth Canto draw: an interesting contrast between Sympathy and Suspicion; the journey continues, and the heroine benighted is met by Credulity, described from a picture by Apelles.

It was a helpless female who exclaimed,
Whose blind and aged form an ass sustained:
Misshaped and timorous, of light ashamed,
In darksome woods her hard-earned food she gained,
And her voracious appetite maintained,
Though all devouring, yet unsatisfied;
Nor aught of hard digestion she disdained,
Whate'er was offered greedily she tried,
And meanly served, as slave, whoever food supplied.

Credulity seized upon by Slander, or the Blatant Beast; delivered by the Knight who is wounded in the contest. The heroine deluded by Credulity into the castle of Suspicion; her agony at concluding she is deserted; betrayed into the cave of Jealousy. Magick deception represents the knight in the bower of loose Delight, unarming; she descries Love.

While thus she gazed, her quivering lips turn pale;
Contending passions rage within her breast,
Nor ever had she known such bitter bale,
Or felt by such fierce agony opprest.
Oft had her gentle heart been sore distrest,
But meekness ever has a lenient power
From anguish half his keenest darts to wrest;
Meekness for her had softened sorrow's hour,
Those furious fiends subdued which boisterous souls devour.

For there are hearts that, like some sheltered lake,
Ne'er swell with rage, nor foam with violence;
Though its sweet placid calm the tempests shake,
Yet will it ne'er with furious impotence
Dash its rude waves against the rocky fence,
Which nature placed the limits of its reign:
Thrice blest! who feel the peace which flows from hence,
Whom meek-eyed gentleness can thus restrain;
Whate'er the storms of fate, with her let none complain!

The knight arrives and relieves Psyche; effect of lingering resentment and reconciliation. The opening of the fifth Canto cannot be omitted.

Delightful visions of my lonely hours!
Charm of my life and solace of my care!
Oh! would the muse but lend proportioned powers,
And give me language, equal to declare
The wonders which she bids my fancy share,
When rapt in her to other worlds I fly,
See angel forms unutterably fair,
And hear the inexpressive harmony
That seems to float on air, and warble through the sky.

Might I the swiftly glancing scenes recal!
Bright as the roseate clouds of summer's eve,
The dreams which hold my soul in willing thrall,
And half my visionary days deceive,
Communicable shape might then receive,
And other hearts be ravished with the strain:
But scarce I seek the airy threads to weave,
When quick confusion mocks the fruitless pain,
And all the fairy forms are vanished from my brain.

Fond dreamer! meditate thine idle song!
But let thine idle song remain unknown:
The verse, which cheers thy solitude, prolong;
What, though it charm no moments but thine own,
Though thy loved Psyche smile for thee alone,
Still shall it yield thee pleasure, if not fame,
And when, escaped from tumult, thou hast flown
To thy dear silent hearth's enlivening flame,
There shall the tranquil muse her happy votary claim!

Psyche's arrival at the palace of Chastity; an impostor known as the "knight of the bleeding heart," prevents the entrance of her companion; her plea for his admission; gates unbarred by Hymen. Hymn celebrating the various triumphs of Chastity. Psyche becomes a supplicant to enter the service of Chastity; directed to continue the journey. Tempestuous voyage; the coast of Spleen; attack and shelter in the grotto of Patience. The sixth and last Canto commences with describing the power of Love to soften adversity, and effects of ill-temper. Voyage continued, Psyche becalmed; Island of Indifference rescued by her knight and voyage concluded. Psyche reunited to her Lover, who has attended as the armed knight, and invited by Venus to receive in heaven her apotheosis. The poem concludes,

Dreams of Delight farewell! your charms no more
Shall gild the hours of solitary gloom!
The page remains — but can the page restore
The vanished bowers which Fancy taught to bloom?
Ah, no! her smiles no longer can illume
The path my Psyche treads no more for me;
Consigned to dark oblivion's silent tomb
The visionary scenes no more I see,
Fast from the fading lines the vivid colours flee!

As a narrative poem this forms a pleasing and interesting performance. The legitimate stanza of Spenser is a difficult, and hazardous attempt, and the slavish recurrence of the rhime too frequently baffles all the powers of genius. It may be objected that there are a few lines of this description, where the similarity of the conclusion scarce amounts to a rhime, and the abrupt opening of the first canto, picturing the distress of Psyche, with its continuation, at the end of the second canto, forms too long an interval. Such slight blemishes, as are immediately discoverable, will weigh little with the lover of the Muse, while enjoying the more general beauties, flowing from a brilliant imagination. Let it be hoped that this introduction to extended notice will assist in surmounting the causeless timidity of the writer, and that the fear of periodical critics will no longer keep from the public this pleasing production.

J. H.