1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Maurice

Alexander Geddes, Review of Maurice, An Elegiac Poem, sacred to the Memory of Sir William Jones; The Monthly Review NS 17 (June 1795) 194-96.



We have often thought, and once at least hinted, that Mr. Maurice's talents for poesy are superior even to his abilities as an historian; and we are strongly confirmed in this opinion by a perusal of the present elegy. Fancy, the soul of poetry, rises here on no weak nor vulgar wing; and we have not recently read any thing of the same cast, which has appeared to us so near to perfection. The diction is pure, the phraseology is unembarrassed, the epithets are well chosen, and the transitions, though bold, are seldom unnatural.

The scene of this poem is supposed to be on the banks of the Ganges; the time between sun-set and sun-rise. It opens with these excellent stanzas:

Shall Genius slumber in th' oblivious tomb,
By no sublime funereal song deplor'd;
Shall he, who tower'd on Fancy's loftiest plume,
Want the sweet dirge o'er beauteous Laura pour'd?

Muses of ASIA! ye who fann'd the fire
That in your favourite's ardent bosom glow'd,
With all your flame my kindling soul inspire,
As when the exalted strain to Mithra flow'd.

Arise! — and deeply smite the choral shell;
Solemn, yet plaintive, roll th' impassion'd lay:
Like those which shook, of old, the mystic cell,
And mourn'd the all-cheering sun's departing ray.

The Genius of antient Asia (who is here a female,) is well painted. She descends, pronounces the panegyric of her favourite, JONES, and traces the progress of eastern science from the Asiatic Researches. Having marked the ravages made by Mahmud, Gengis, Timur, Shadrock, Ulug-beg, Baber, Akber, Aurungzebe, and Abdollah, and the dismal situation of India when our Britons first became acquainted with it, she bursts forth into the following beautiful apostrophe:

"To chase the tenfold gloom, my JONES, was thine,
To cheer the Brahmin, and to burst his chains;
To search for latent gems the Sanscreet mine,
And wake the fervour of her ancient strains.

"For, oh! what pen shall paint, with half thy fire,
The power of Music on th' impassion'd soul,
When the great masters wak'd the Indian lyre,
And bade the burning song electric roll!

"The mystic veil, that wraps the hallow'd shrines
Of India's deities, 'twas thine to rend:
With brighter fires each radiant altar shines,
To nature's awful god those fires ascend.

"Sound the deep conch; dread Veeshnu's power proclaim,
And heap with fragrant woods the blazing urn;
I see, sublime Devotion's noblest flame
'Midst Superstition's glowing embers burn!

"'Twas thine, with daring wing and eagle eye,
To pierce antiquity's profoundest gloom;
To search the dazzling records of the sky,
And bid the stars the sacred page illume.

"Nor did the instructive orbs of heaven alone,
Absorb thy soul 'mid yon ethereal fields;
To thee the vegetable world was known,
And all the blooming tribes the garden yields;

"From the tall cedar on the mountain's brow,
Which the fierce tropic-storm in vain assails,
Down to the humblest shrubs that beauteous blow,
And scent the air of Asia's fragrant vales.

"But talents — fancy — ardent, bold, sublime,—
Unbounded science — form'd thy meanest fame;
Beyond the grasp of death, the bound of time,
On wings of fire RELIGION wafts thy name.

"And long as stars shall shine, or planets roll,
To kindred virtue shall that name be dear;
Still shall thy genius charm th' aspiring soul,
And distant ages kindle at thy bier."

We could with pleasure quote many more stanzas: but we wish our readers not to be contented with quotations and parts only, where the whole is so worth of their perusal.