1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Hugh Downman

Richard Polwhele, "Epistle to H. Downman, M.D. of Exeter, written during a violent Illness, August 17, 1791" Poems by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall (1792) 2:176-178.



Hail to my generous guide, my honour'd friend!
May every blessing on his steps attend—
How feebly the warm wish these lines impart!
Yet, O accept them from a grateful heart!

Here, DOWNMAN, as in still suspense I lie,
And from my pillow lift the languid eye;
'Tis in thy friendship only to effuse
Some little spirit o'er my faultering muse!

Long have I own'd with pride, amidst the shade
Of sacred poesy, thy critic aid;
And, whilst thy lessons to perfection fir'd,
The beauteous model in thy verse admir'd,
Where melody unites with diction chaste,
And all that fancy charms, or polisht taste.

But merits, far superior, mark thy lays—
Praise, such as this, were "mockery of praise."
The manly virtues in thy numbers shine,
And sentiment, that nerves each vigorous line;
And learning, not in pompous garb display'd,
But, in simplicity's pure vest array'd;
And strong unbiast reason, and the light
Of philanthropic feelings beaming bright:
Nor less the humbler charities, that pour
Their lustre on the dear domestic hour!

Yet, though thy writings to the world hold forth
A spotless mirror of thy active worth,
Yet is thy life (just heaven's peculiar care)
But with a feeble ray reflected there.
Strenuous to chase from man each brooding ill,
Thy social kindness or thy healing Skill,
Through all the tenour of that life appears,
And brightens up a gloomy vale of tears:
Whether, from opulence retir'd, thy feet
Trace out the chill and comfortless retreat
Of the poor orphan, or thou love to close
The mental wounds that speak no common woes.

Where, starting from a short and troubled sleep,
The weary languish, or the wretched weep;
'Tis thine refreshing slumbers to restore,
Bid strength revive, or sorrow weep no more.
And, whilst the sounds of gratulation bless
Thy healing art, thy merited success;
Whilst, from the bed of sickness, round thee rise
The rich, the poor, to meet thy glistening eyes,
Fresh-blooming — with the nerve of health new-strung,
And DOWNMAN echoes from each grateful tongue;
Me, too, thy cordial balms already cheer,
Thy friendly voice, thy sympathy sincere!

Yes! where the last dim star of eve survey'd
This fainting frame in pale disorder laid,
When well-nigh ceas'd the vital stream to flow,
And every pulse beat tremulously low;
And, as my breath seem'd ready to depart,
Exhausted nature flutter'd at my heart;
Thy medicine's renovating power could save
My sunken spirit from the yawning grave!

And O! if an indulgent BEING give
His servant, yet a few short years to live;
To please that GOD who bless'd thy art in me,
O DOWNMAN, may I live to copy thee!