1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Warton

Richard Mant, Verses to the Memory of Joseph Warton, D.D. late Head Master of Winchester College (1800) 5-16.



'Tis sweet, when freshly breathes the vernal morn,
To hear the solemn rook, that clam'rous wheels
Round some elm-circled mansion; sweet to lie
Beneath the canopy of spreading groves,
When ceaseless hums the summer air; or rove
At evening still, when the lone nightingale
Sings wakeful her thick-warbled song; 'tis sweet
To catch by fits the melancholy sound,
While through the ruins of th' autumnal wood
Sighs the sad gale, or the loud wintery wind
Blows hollow o'er the bleak and blasted heath;—
But sweeter still the meek and plaintive tones
Of heav'nly poetry, which lulls the heart
With grateful sorrow mild; which speaks of worth
Departed, speaks of those whom never more
Our eyes shall view, our arms shall clasp; then tells
In louder strains of the eternal rest,
The blissful mansions of unfading heav'n.

And such delightful pleasure, innocent,
Delightful to the sense, and to the mind
Minist'ring calm and holy pensiveness,
Who shall forbid to seize? Who shall forbid,
If I, unus'd to woo th' Aonian choir,
And all unskilful, yet aspire to seek
Their hallow'd temple; and with pious zeal
And grateful duty weave an humble crown,
"To deck the laureate herse where Warton lies?"

O tow'rs of Venta, and thou gentle stream,
Itchin, ye bending vales, and breezy downs,
You best his praise can witness; — oft he climb'd
In morn of life your fir-crown'd hill, and roam'd
Your osier'd meads, and pac'd your cloisters dim;
You to meridian fame beheld him rise
Circled with Wykeham's sons; and you beheld
How Wykeham's grateful sons the tribute paid
Of filial love, and cheer'd his closing day.

For well was Warton lov'd, and well deserv'd!
Whether he led the fault'ring step of youth
To offer incense at the Muse's shrine;
Or, justly stern, check'd with forbidding frown
Impetuous vice; or with approving smile
Cherish'd the hope of virtue's modest bud;
Strong to convince, and gentle to persuade,
"His tongue dropt manna," and his ardent eye
Sparkled with temper'd rage, or beam'd with joy
Boundless: nor wonder; for within his heart
Dwelt pure affection, and the liberal glow
Of charity; join'd to each native grace,
Which the sweet Muse imparts to those she loves.
His was the tear of pity, soft as show'rs
That fall on April meadows; his the rapt
Impassion'd thought, quick as the lightning's glance,
And warm as summer suns: and every flow'r
Of Poesy, which by the laurell'd spring
Of Aganippe, or that Roman stream
Tiber, or Tuscan Arno, breath'd of old
Its fragrance sweet; and ev'ry flow'r, which since
Hath drunk the dew beside the banks of Thames,
Met in his genial breast, and blossom'd there.

Happy old man! for therefore didst thou seek
Extatic vision by the haunted stream
Or grove of fairy: then thy nightly ear
(As from the wild notes of some airy harp)
Thrill'd with strange music; if the tragic plaints
And sounding lyre of those Athenians old,
Rich-minded poets, fathers of the stage,
Rous'd thee enraptur'd; or the pastoral reed
Of Mantuan Tityrus charm'd; or Dante fierce,
Or more majestic Homer swell'd thy soul,
Or Milton's muse of fire. Nor seldom came
Wild fancy's priests, with masked pageantry,
And harpings more than mortal: he, whose praise
Is heard by Mulla; and that untaught bard
Of Avon, child of nature; nor less lov'd,
Though later, he, who rais'd with mystic hand
The fancy-hollow'd pile of chivalry,
Throng'd with bold knights; while Chaucer smil'd to see
From his rich mine of English, undefil'd,
Though all by time obscured a gorgeous dome
On marble pillars reared, and golden valves
Majestic, fashion'd by his genuine son.

And O! hadst thou to our fond vows appear'd
Assistant, whilst unrivall'd Dryden sang
Ammon's high pomp, and Sigismonda's tears
For lost Guiscardo; how on coal-black steed
"The horse-man ghost came thund'ring for his prey;"
Or how amid the waste of nature stood
Thy temple, God of Slaughter! — O! hadst thou
With kindred flame, and such a flame was thine,
Call'd up that elder bard, who left half-sung
The wondrous tale of Tartar Cambuscan;
So had the muse a brighter chaplet twin'd
To grace thy brow; nor tuneful Dryden hung
A statelier trophy on the shrine of fame.

Happy old man! Yet not in vain to thee
Was Fancy's wand committed: not in vain
Did Science fill thee with her sacred lore:—
But if of fair and lovely aught, if aught
Of good and virtuous in her hallow'd walls,
Through the long space of thrice twelve glorious years,
Thy Venta nurtur'd; if transplanted thence
To the fair banks of Isis and of Cam,
It brighter shone; and haply thence again,
Thence haply spread its influence through the land,
That be thy praise. Be it thy praise, that thou
Didst bathe the youthful lip in the fresh spring,
"The pure well-head of Poesy," didst point,
Like thine own lov'd Longinus, to the steep
Parnassian crag, and led'st thyself the way;—
Be it thy praise, that thou didst clear the path,
Which leads to Virtue's fane; not her of stern
And Stoic aspect dark, till Virtue wears
The gloom of Vice; but such as warms the heart
To acts of love, and peace, and gentleness,
And tend'rest charity; such as around
Thy earthly passage shed her cheerful light,
And such as Wykeham best might love to view.

So thine allotted station didst thou fill,
And now art passed to thy peaceful grave,
In age and honours ripe. Then not for thee
Pour we the tear of sorrow; not with strains
Like those despondent, which the Doric bard
Wept for his Bion, do we tend on thee:
For other hopes are ours, and other views,
Brighter and happier scenes! No earthly chains
Shall in this dreary prison-house confine
Spirits of light; nor shall the heav'n-born mind
Oblivious linger in the silent cave
Of endless hopeless sleep. But as the Sun,
Who drove his fierce and fiery-tressed steeds
Glorious along the vault of heav'n, at length
Sinks in the bosom of the western wave;
Anon from forth the chambers of the east
To run his giant course; so didst thou set,
So mayst thou rise to glory!

But the high
And secret counsels of th' Eternal Name
Who may presume to scan!

Enough for me
That thus with pious zeal I pour the verse
Of love to Warton, from that seat which nurst
His youth in classic lore. Here blest with all,
That social worth can yield, and minds refin'd
By Attic taste, and gentlest manners bland,
My duteous homage chief to thee I pay,
O dome of Edward! nor meanwhile forget
The earlier hopes that charm'd, the earlier friends
That still, entwin'd around my heart, endear
My hours of childhood; whilst I sojourn'd blithe
In those lov'd walls, which Wykeham nobly plann'd
And Warton, favourite of the Muses, grac'd.