1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hannah Cowley

Richard Polwhele, in "Visitation of the Poets" 1800; Biographical Sketches in Cornwall (1831) 2:48.



Now — dear madam Cowley! descend from thy height,
Archpriestess of Comedy, frothy and light!
Tho' more of the tragedy-queen in thy looks—
Descend, madam Cowley! and build up the books.
Yet first — (thro' thy tears I perceive a faint smile)
With thy own pretty pieces embellish the pile.
And as, to set fire to this soul-breathing pyramid,
Apollo's self bade us provoke and bestir a maid,
Devoted Miss Hannah! of vestals the purest,
Of saints or of methodist-maidens demurest!
Thy books bring together — come, toss in thy "Percy;"
Nor on thy "Inflexible Captive" have mercy!"
Whilst with Deans so familiar, and Bishops we rank her,
Can Hannah still after the theatre hanker?
"No!" contracting her brow into furrows full risible,
(As a torch met her hands from some spirit invisible)
"No — no!" (scream'd Miss Hannah) "all hail! Benedicite!"
And thus made a virtue of savage necessity.
Then, (her visage with zeal or malevolence flusht)
To the heap of high wit, like a Bacchanal, rush'd
And dash'd in the torch. Strait ascended the smoke,
And feeding on goblins and giants and joke,
From the pyre, a fine blue, the flame crackled and broke.
And certes! or nourisht by matter bituminous,
Or nonsence or wit, it was very voluminous!
When rising and flying, more subtle and bright,
Than it e'er has aspired on a Benefit-night,
The wit or the flame was now curling aloof,
Till suddenly all in a blaze was the roof.
Away scamper'd the crowd: And the Muses upflew
To their Sheridan — Cumberland — bidding adieu!