1770 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Chatterton

Thomas Carey, "Elegy to the Memory of Mr. Thomas Chatterton, late of Bristol" Town and Country Magazine 2 (October 1770) 551.



How shall my pen make known the sad event,
How tell the loss, O earth! by thee sustain'd;
In what expressions give the tidings vent,
Of which the thought, my soul, so oft has pain'd.

Why wilt thou torturing reflection mad
Each fond idea of the blessings past;
Blessings which only to the anguish add;
O did their pleasing efficacy last!

Think of his tender op'ning unfledg'd years,
Brought to a final crisis ere mature:
As fate had grudg'd the wonders nature rears,
Bright genius in oblivion to immure.

Weep, nature, weep, the mighty loss bewail,
The wonder of our drooping isle is dead;
Oh could but tears or plaintive sighs avail,
By night and day would I bedew my bed.

O give his mem'ry reverential due,
His worth a tributary tear demands:
Still hold his many virtues in your view,
Then must a a free-will offering 'scape your hands.

Had but his tender budding genius thriv'd,
Still blooming on, spite of the frosty blast;
Till ripen'd into manhood still surviv'd,
The fruits full ripe — how rich the sweet repast!

Ere vital utterance could scarce transpire,
His infant lips evinc'd a manly soul;
Predicting that heroic mental fire,
Which reign'd supreme within the mighty whole.

Friendship cemented by the slightest ties,
Full hardly brooks the intervening cause
That separates the friend we lightly prize,
Bursting the bonds of friendship's sacred laws.

Then how can I but feel the dire effect,
Where infancy began the social tie,
Which full increas'd — (void of the least defect)
As each revolving year did multiply.

Tho' great the loss to me — heav'n knows how great!
Were it but individually known,
I would not vainly thus repine at fate,
But providential justice ever own.

No — that's not all — my country feels the stroke,
The public good was ever in his view,
His pen his lofty sentiments bespoke,
Nor fear'd he virtuous freedom to pursue.

Yes, Liberty! thy fair, thy upright cause
He dar'd defend, spite of despotic force,
To crush his much-lov'd country's wholesome laws,
It's noble constitution's only source.

Ye muses! leave your florid airy smiles,
And thou mercurial Euphrosyne,
Forget thy wanton cranks, and am'rous wiles,
To sympathize with sad Melpomene.

Your pride is fall'n — your chief, your great support,
Lies mould'ring to his own primaeval dust:
To you while living ever was his court,
Dead — in return, let not his mem'ry rust.

What ease within his sweet'ned numbers flow'd,
What symmetry each well-pen'd line evinc'd;
Such just connection on each verse bestow'd,
Ev'n Envy of his worth must stand convinc'd.

His lofty numbers, how sublimely great!
Lifting the ravish'd sense to heights supreme,
Again with fancy-printed woes elate,
He shews the passions of the tragic theme.

Sharp-visag'd satire own'd him as her lord,
Exclusive of her hand-maid in her train,
Ill-nature — curst attendant of the board
Of those who stigmatize mankind for gain.

Not so with him — he paints each reigning vice
In strongest colours of their genuine hue;
Sweet'ning the bitter draught with sav'ry spice,
The moral picture relishing the view.

O could my pen but catch his livid fire,
Hear thou my invocation, mighty dead;
My infant muse with life mature inspire,
Thy shade may dictate, tho' the substance's fled.

Antiquity! bewail his cruel fate,
He paid thy hoary head the rev'rence due;
Thy valu'd acts reviving out of date,
Recalling ages past to present view.

To truths long dead, he gave a second birth,
Rescuing from oblivion occult stores;
Treasures within the bowels of the earth
Unheeded by the vulgar mind — explores.

Most strange! ideas of so vast extent
Could e'er within his tender mind reside,
No art or science but some influence lent,
His intellectual parts to make more wide.

Why fancy, wilt thou paint him to my eyes,
Why form the fond idea in my mind;
O couldst thou but some plastic means devise
The substance with the shadow still to find.
Bristol, October, 1770.